Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Reverse Engineering: Greece Can Reclaim the Past and Foil the New Cold War

Over at Naked Capitalism Yves Smith keeps up her withering -- now almost sneering -- assessment of Greece's attempt to avoid compliance with the troika's austerity diktats while staying committed to the eurozone. This morning's offering, "Greece Submits Insufficiently Detailed Reform List; Tsipras Tells Parliament of 'Peace with Honor,' Um, 'Honorable Compromise'," foresees Syriza's eventual acceptance of most of the main components of austerity:
Greece continues to abandon campaign promises while standing fast with its bold claim that it is rejecting austerity and keeping its red lines. Tsipras called a parliamentary session Monday that was set to run 70 minutes but took over four hours. While the reform terms are still in flux, Greece has already given up on holding back on privatizations (it has them in its budget, projecting €1.5 billion from them this year), looks to be ready to cave on the unpopular property tax, Enfia, which Syriza attacked during its campaign, and has evidently given up on the campaign promise of a minimum wage increase. On the last issue, the government is now saying simply that it will not implement labor market liberalization. It has thus retreated to trying to fight the Troika to a standstill on labor market “reforms,” which mean reducing labor bargaining power.
Tsipras said he would achieve an honorable compromise. But that has far too much of a “peace with honor” sound about it. Despite the government’s repeated claims that it is rejecting austerity, it conceded on that issue long ago when Yanis Varoufakis said Greece would achieve a primary surplus of 1.0% to 1.5% of GDP and would continue to run primary surpluses. A government surplus is dampening even in the best of times; during a depression, it guarantees that the economy will get worse.
At best, all Greece will have achieved is trading austerity for austerity lite. But with the primary surplus targets it has set, it may not even achieve that much in the way of lessening of its pain. The main impact will likely be to shift more of the burden to the wealthy, and Greece may also get some humanitarian relief from the EU to improve the optics and assuage the creditors’ consciences (at least for the ones that actually possess them). That is not a meaningless outcome, but it clearly falls short of what Tsipras is trying to convince his coalition members and the Greek public that he will obtain. them.
Oddly, the always excellent Yves Smith does not mention Tsipras' scheduled trip to Moscow next week, a story covered by NYT's Liz Alderman, "Greece Looks to Russia as Deal With Europe Stumbles":
With tax revenues falling quickly, Greece will be hard pressed to pay €450 million owed to the International Monetary Fund on April 7, the day before Mr. Tsipras’s visit to Moscow.
Most top Greek government officials have rejected suggestions in recent weeks that they might turn to Russia for aid. But others have courted the idea publicly, including Panos Kammenos, Greece’s defense minister. Greece could seek financial help from Russia, China or the United States as a “Plan B” if Germany “remains rigid and wants to blow Europe apart,” he declared last month.
Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, has said that Moscow would consider a Greek request for aid if one is made — an offer that the Russian ambassador to Greece repeated in an interview with a Greek newspaper over the weekend.
On Monday, the Greek energy minister, Panagiotis Lafazanis, traveled to Moscow to meet with his Russian counterpart and the chief executive of the Russian energy giant Gazprom. As he prepared to leave for Moscow, Mr. Lafazanis lashed out at the European Union and Germany for “tightening the noose” around the Greek economy.
Last month, Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, said in an interview that Mr. Tsipras had assured him he would not be a “troublemaker” over European policy toward Russia.
But few people have forgotten how the new Syriza-led government in Greece, just days after it was elected in January, denounced European Union sanctions against Russia over Ukraine. The move took European Union leaders by surprise and threatened to upend Europe’s policy toward Moscow. Facing pressure, Athens quickly reversed its position and joined other countries in a unanimous vote to continue sanctions for Russia.
Still, some officials in Brussels saw Greece’s flip-flop as a bargaining ploy to win concessions from European Union creditors over the terms of Greece’s bailout package. Athens has also talked of turning to China for help if need be.
On Friday, Deputy Prime Minister Yiannis Dragasakis met with Vice Premier Ma Kai in Beijing, where both men pledged to strengthen ties between the countries. Mr. Dragasakis also assured Beijing that the Chinese state-run shipping company Cosco could move ahead with a tender for a 67.7 percent stake in Greece’s Piraeus Port Authority, one of the most strategic ports in southern Europe.
Even if Greece were eventually to seek financial assistance from Moscow, Russia’s economy is under pressure amid a collapse in oil prices and the lengthy conflict in Ukraine. It is expected to contract by at least 4 percent this year. While the ruble has been rising in recent days — and the sense that the Kremlin may be getting things under control is increasing — Russia may think twice if Mr. Tsipras were to seek large sums of financial aid, especially if loans risked not being repaid any time in the foreseeable future.
“Moscow could provide a little bit of funding to tide over the Greeks,” Mr. Tilford said. “But it is not in a position to provide the kind of money that Greece would need to stay in the eurozone.”
Greece’s European partners have suggested Athens may need to apply for a third bailout this summer, before an additional €7 billion worth of debts to the I.M.F. and the European Central Bank come due. Any new package could be in the tens of billions of euros, and would most certainly hinge on a string of harsh conditions that Greece would rather avoid.
In the meantime, the haggling between Athens and Brussels continues. Greece and its creditors were expected to discuss the latest reforms on Wednesday, although no conclusion is expected during the Easter holiday on whether they will be sufficient to unlock cash.
Students of history -- Russians are better students of World War Two and the Cold War because their sacrifices were exponentially more immense than those in the West -- know that the Cold War began with the Truman Doctrine and the intervention of the UK and U.S. in the Greek Civil War to crush the Greek Resistance. Stalin stood aside and let the Democratic Army of Greece bleed out. Now Putin -- at a cost far lower for present-day Russia than the Soviet Union post-WWII (and Western governments commanding far less popular support) -- can right a wrong, aid the Greek people and simultaneously create a great deal of difficulty for the EU and NATO.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Joint Arab Military Force: Saudis Decide to Emerge from Shadows

The bill for Saudi support of Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi's coup has come due. The Egyptian president and former general who ousted Mohamed Morsi in July 2013, beginning a bloody crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood and a rollback of the Arab Spring, announced at an Arab League meeting in Sharm el Sheikh over the weekend the formation of a joint Arab military force. David Kirkpatrick has the story, "Arab Nations to Form Military Force to Counter Iran and Islamist Extremists":
The challenges facing our national Arab security are grave, and we have succeeded in diagnosing the reasons behind it,” Mr. Sisi said, without specifying those reasons. The meeting, he added, was “pumping the blood of hope in the arteries of Arab cooperation.”
Egypt has long considered itself the shield and protector of the oil-rich but sparsely populated gulf monarchies like Saudi Arabia. Yet Mr. Sisi has an especially close relationship with the Saudis and their gulf allies because they supported his ouster of President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013. The gulf monarchies have contributed tens of billions in financial assistance to Egypt since then, including new pledges of an additional $12 billion announced this month.
Last year, Mr. Sisi also allowed jets from the United Arab Emirates to take off from Egypt for airstrikes against an Islamist-allied political faction in Libya. This year, the Egyptian Air Force carried out a strike of its own in Darnah, in eastern Libya, in retaliation for the beheading of a group of Egyptian Christians by an arm of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL. Both Egypt and its gulf allies remain acutely concerned about Libya’s civil strife and the Islamist groups that have flourished as the government and other national institutions have crumbled.
The idea of a joint military force “has been there before but not so seriously,” said Gamal Abdel Gawad Soltan, a political scientist at the American University in Cairo. He noted that Arab joint defense treaties date to 1950 and a joint military command was previously formed for a time in the mid-1960s. That was during the era of Pan-Arab nationalism, when Arab governments joined forces against Israel. That vision ended in the Arab-Israeli War of 1967, with a humiliating defeat.
“It is the renewal of an old idea,” Mr. Soltan said, “but this time the level of seriousness looks higher, even if we do not know yet whether the outcome this time will be different than in the past.”
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia provided ample financial and diplomatic backing for Sisi's coup government. A dictator presiding over a ruthless police state is what the Saudis prefer to see worldwide. For all his talk of democracy and new beginnings in the Arab world, Obama quickly fell in line with the Arab Spring rollback.

But the Gulf Sheikhdoms are apoplectic, as are the Israelis, over the P5+1 talks with Iran on its nuclear program; that, and the reluctance of Obama to bomb Damascus to rubble and take out the Baathists in Syria once and for all. Now there is the Houthi movement in Yemen who easily toppled the Saudi stooge Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

So the despots presented Sisi with his bill: the formation of a combined Arab military force, the foot soldiers, the cannon fodder to be supplied in large part by Egypt.

It will be interesting to see the extent of Sisi's servility. Will he invade Yemen? Despite the obvious foolishness of such a move, it seems like a foregone conclusion. The problem for the Saudis, as the Kirkpatrick wryly notes, is that the Houthis are seasoned fighters, certain to hold their ground and bloody any invaders that come their way:
Speaking at the meeting in Sharm el Sheikh, Nabil el-Araby, the secretary general of the Arab League, vowed that the Saudi-led airstrikes against the Houthi movement would continue until the Houthis had surrendered, apparently leaving little hope for negotiating a prompt end to the violence.
The campaign “will continue until all Houthi militias retreat and disarm, and a strong unified Yemen returns,” he said, declaring that the intervention had saved Yemen from sliding into the abyss.
The Houthi movement, which originated in the north of Yemen and follows a strain of Shiite Islam, has seized control of the country’s capital, Sana, and other large cities in part by allying itself with military and security forces still loyal to Yemen’s former strongman, Ali Abdullah Saleh. Mr. Saleh was removed in 2012, after an Arab Spring uprising, in a transitional deal brokered by Saudi Arabia and the other gulf countries. While the Houthis have received financial support from Tehran, the Iranians do not seem to exert a strong influence over the group as they do, for example, with Hezbollah in Lebanon.
The Houthis have previously fought as many as a half-dozen different civil conflicts against Yemen’s central government since 2004. None of the previous battles have succeeded in eliminating or fully disarming the movement.
One positive that can be taken away from Sharm el-Sheikh is that the Saudis have gone above board; they are not dealing with every geopolitical problem by means of a cut-out, whether the Pentagon/CIA or Wahhabi terror groups like Al Qaeda or Islamic State. Granted, Sisi fills the role of a front man, but the Saudis are front and center on Yemen. They are leading the campaign. So a loss in Yemen will bring the war home to the Kingdom. Maybe then there will be a reevaluation of the wisdom of perpetual war.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Colt 45 Chronicle #91

This weekend was devoted to filing of federal income taxes. Saturday and Sunday were burned in front of the laptop entering a lot of data from brokerage statements.

The letter below, like the one posted last week, is to my buddy Niall. I confide to him my love of reading philosophy and Jacques Derrida.
Autumn 1989
A fist full of fortune cookies. I just tossed a fist full of fortune cookies into the trash. They came individually wrapped in plastic and they looked fresh. But I tossed them unopened into the trash anyway. I figured that any future they could let me in on wasn't worth the trouble involved in prying the plastic wrapper apart with my fingertips and then spilling the shattered cookie crust onto the kitchen floor. I'll be honest with you though, it didn't feel good tossing them into the trash like that; it felt like spitting in the aisles of a church; it felt like driving a pickup truck off an ocean cliff. I don't know why. I wish I did.
I started a letter to you but I was too drunk to get past the second sentence. I had been drinking with the boys at work. I had had about six bourbons and who knows how many beers. But I made it home to Washington Heights safe and sound (sound enough to careen into the corner deli for a three-quart pick-me-up). The first thing I thought of when I sat myself down was that I owed you a letter. I don't why since I'm still waiting on your recapitulation of the quake drama. But like I said, I only made it to the second sentence (too much bourbon).
I'm starting to read a lot of philosophy again. I had never given up on reading the shit, I just diminished the importance of it in my life. It's a big responsibility. It takes a lot of energy to read; and even after you've done a nice thorough and clean job of underlining and making notations in the margins, there's no guarantee that you're going to remember anything 24 hours hence. It's not like reading a story -- as you know, having read your Plato and Nietzsche and Weber -- everything's conceptual; there's not a whole lot for your brain to sink its teeth into. Your best bet is to try to make it into mantra -- rehearse and talk to yourself of what you know of what you've read, and then keep on reading.
Right now I've got several pokers in the fire. I'm reading this compilation recently published by University of Minnesota Press called REDRAWING THE LINES. It's a bunch of essays talking about deconstruction's relationship to analytic philosophy during the recent (in the last ten years) prioritization of theory in literature departments. I'm about a third of the way through, and it seems good enough, though I did read a really excruciatingly piece on the superiority of Cavell's writings on the later Wittgenstein as a model for the reading and interpretation of literature as opposed to a deconstruction-based model. The motherfucker's 20 or so pages boil down to the idea that reading requires "commonsensicalness," and that since deconstruction is just skepticism made textually fastidious (hence not bald and unrigorous enough) Derrida should be left on the shelf. What a bunch of facile shit, huh? It's crap like that that makes you wonder why philosophy should be read at all; it makes you think that it's all just so much academic jigsaw puzzling chalked up to fear and avoidance of the 9-to-5.
I'm also reading Derrida's introduction to Edmund Husserl's ORIGIN OF GEOMETRY. It was the first thing Derrida published in book form (the introduction plus Derrida's translation of Husserl's little piece of some 30 pages runs 128 pages; so it definitely qualifies as book length). It first appeared in 1962. I bought it because it just came out softbound for the first time, published by University of Nebraska press, a Bison Book (which is a mighty fine book). I read a few pages of it in the Philosophy Library at UC Berkeley not more than two years ago. It was important for me at the time because I was working almost feverishly on my Kant/Frege/Derrida magnum oh. ORIGIN OF GEOMETRY is significant for Husserl because of Frege's criticism of Husserl's first published work, which had to do with the foundations of arithmetic. Anyway, there were other reasons besides the confluence of first works and mentorships that made Derrida's vestal publishing sublime and profound for the purpose of my magnum oh, but I won't confuse and bore by going into them here. Pushing all that muck to the side, Derrida's introduction to the ORIGIN OF GEOMETRY and his SPEECH AND PHENOMENA, which is also about Husserl, are the two best and easiest ways to figure out exactly where he's coming from and exactly what deconstruction is all about. It's all based on a true reading of phenomenology, which, in turn, owes itself to a true reading of Kant. Cut the cloth however you like, for me Derrida is always the right length, someone you know who will always be on the money. And, goddamnit, you can't say that about hardly anyone, short of your conception of the deity. So old brainiac Jacques is pretty special to me.
Even if I'm just pissing in the wind wasting my non-9-to-5 time reading writing philosophicus at least I'll be concentrating hard, and, happy, thinking about the future because I'm so locked up in the present -- a cogitating about the future that's free of constricting simple messages. I don't know, but I guess philosophy . . . at least it'll get me as far as fortune cookies in the trash.
Ta Da!

Friday, March 27, 2015

Hippies vs. Punks: X-Ray Spex's Germfree Adolescents

Germfree Adolescents (1978) was not released in the United States for more than 20 years after it first appeared in the UK. Robert Christgau lamented the fact that it was unavailable stateside four months after its UK release in November 1978:
My two favorite LPs of recent months are not available in domestic release and it pisses me off. So let me recommend once again Pere Ubu's Dub Housing on English Chrysalis, especially to admirers of Captain Beefheart who find themselves attracted by the force but put off by the simplifications of most new wave. Simplification fans should seek out the even more exciting Germ Free Adolescents, by X-Ray Spex on English EMI. Poly Styrene's cheerfully moralistic nursery rhymes sound samey at first, but their melodies soon reveal themselves and the dubiously tuned one-sax horn section provides irresistible color. From a song about suicide: "Did you do it for fame?/Did you do it in a fit?/Did you do it before read about it?"
Finally in 1991, during the heyday of Grunge, Caroline Records reissued Germfree Adolescents in the United States, an interesting synchronicity since 1991 is the year Bikini Kill's first record appears.

X-Ray Spex was definitely a Poly Styrene vehicle. She put the band together after seeing the Sex Pistols perform in Hastings the summer of 1976 (just as Bernard Summer and Peter Hook of Joy Division decided to form a band after seeing the Sex Pistols in Manchester the summer of 1976) and the band quickly fell apart after she left in 1979, burnt out from the exigencies of the popular music industry touring and promotion.

Poly Styrene née Marianne Joan Elliott-Said, who died of cancer at the age of 53 in April of 2011, was part Scotch-Irish and part Somali. She ran away from home as a teenager to live the life of a Hippie. Prior to her Sex Pistols conversion, she put out a record in 1976 as Mari Elliot that was produced by Falcon Stuart.

Falcon Stuart produced Germfree Adolescents as well, and Poly Styrene wrote all its songs. And what I took away from my immersion in the album this past week is Falcon Stuart, or whoever did the sound engineering, did a fantastic job. Despite the fact that it is garage rock Punk and therefore has that monaural, bleached quality, the high end of Styrene's vocals most of the time is in perfect balance with Rudi Thompson's saxophone which simultaneously occupies the low end vocal range. So what is created is a steady sonic wave. I find it quite unique.

Then there is the uniqueness of Styrene's anti-consumerist invective. The entire record is a sustained bombardment directed at the artificiality and alienation of capitalist society as actually lived by a human being. I can't think of another first wave Punk album that is anywhere near as focused and consistent in its message.

Germfree Adolescents is a Punk document because it doesn't hold out the possibility of a New World, a Hippie retreat to a pasture in the sun or a rock'n'roll revolution where sexual liberation will provide happiness for everyone and the kids are alright. No, it wades out into the plastic muck and says, "Take a look! This is all we are."

Studying Germfree Adolescents this past week has opened up a hidden reservoir of memory. Falcon Stuart was instrumental in getting Adam and the Ants launched. Adam and the Ants were everywhere when I first moved out on my own to attend the university.

X-Ray Spex's first saxophone player was Lora Logic, who got me thinking about Lene Lovich, who got me thinking about Nina Hagen. And then there is Lydia Lunch. Female Punk artists who were ubiquitous when I was a young man. Then there is Judy Nylon. Let's not forget Judy Nylon.

We're going to have to return to this topic soon. The idea here being that feminism made huge strides because of Punk.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Conflict with the Shia Comes Into Sharper Focus: Yemen and Iraq

The problem for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf sheikhdoms is that their Wahhabite proxies, Islamic State and Al Qaeda, don't have an air force. Thus, when confronted by a seasoned, motivated fighting force like the Houthis in Yemen who have been rolling through the country at will mopping up any forces remaining loyal to the pro-Saudi president Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, the monarchies of the Gulf Cooperation Council can't rely on their usual weapon of choice, Salafi terror.

Hence, we have today's headline, "Saudi Jets Strike Yemen in Bid to Halt Houthis," by David Kirkpatrick. The Yemeni air force is reported to have been destroyed and the Saudis have massed 150,000 troops on their border with Yemen. The United States, while denying that it is flying sorties, is providing public relations flak and is coordinating the air campaign. Here is the roll call of nations attacking Yemen:
The United States and most of the Arab nations moved quickly to support the Saudi-led operation in Yemen, which Saudi Arabia has called Operation Decisive Storm
The White House said in a statement that the United States would provide “logistical and intelligence support” to the Saudi-led military operations. “While U.S. forces are not taking direct military action in Yemen in support of this effort, we are establishing a joint planning cell with Saudi Arabia to coordinate U.S. military and intelligence support,” Bernadette Meehan, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council, said in a statement.
“The United States strongly condemns ongoing military actions taken by the Houthis against the elected government of Yemen,” she said.
“We strongly urge the Houthis to halt immediately their destabilizing military actions and return to negotiations as part of the political dialogue,” she said, adding, “The violent takeover of Yemen by an armed faction is unacceptable and a legitimate political transition – long sought by the Yemeni people – can be accomplished only through political negotiations and a consensus agreement among all of the parties.”
Four other Persian Gulf monarchies, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, joined the Saudi operation, as well as the allied Arab kingdoms of Jordan and Morocco.
Egyptian state news media reported that Cairo was also providing undefined political and military support. The Egyptian government was consulting with Saudi Arabia about the possibility of providing forces in the naval or air support or ground troops as well, the state news media reported.
Of the Persian Gulf states, only Oman declined to participate. Two other less expected nations outside the immediate region Pakistan and Sudantook part as well, according to the Saudi-owned Al Arabiya network.
Al Arabiya reported that in addition to 100 fighter jets, Saudi Arabia had deployed 150,000 soldiers and other naval units. But the operation has so far consisted only of an aerial campaign.
I must admit I am bit surprised that the Saudis are taking such an above-board role in the conflict; it is not the Kingdom's style. Yemen is no Bahrain. The Saudis as well as the Egyptians have been bloodied there in the past. But one thing we have come to expect from the House of Saud is that they categorically accept no victory for the Shia. One commentator on The New York Times web site sagely noted that the Saudis were not roused to similar martial action when Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula controlled large swaths of territory in Yemen. Ah, yes, but the Houthis are Zaydi, a Shiite sect.

This is not going to end well. The Houthis cannot be easily broken. The one potential positive is that war will come home to al Saud. The Houthis will be able to inflict damage on Saudi ground troops if they are ever committed to Yemen.

Part of the problem in the world today is that war doesn't come home to centers of aggression like Washington D.C. and Riyadh. Thus the war planners can plot away free of charge implementing their schemes of slaughter and destruction. This has to change.

Before signing off this morning I recommend you take the time to read Rod Nordland and Peter Baker's frontpager, "Opening New Iraq Front, U.S. Strikes ISIS in Tikrit." After doing so, it is impossible to deny that the "war" against Islamic State is merely a foil for the larger U.S.-GCC-Israeli conflict with Iran.

Obama yesterday apparently decided to grant a request for airstrikes made last week by Iraqi prime minister Abadi. The issue is that about 1,000 Islamic State fighters have holed up in parts of Tikrit preventing the 30,000 Iraqi troops (most of whom are Shiite militia) from exercising complete control of the city.

One wonders if Obama's decision to get U.S. air power off the sidelines was linked to assistance of the Saudi-led assault on Yemen. The discussion being, "If you let me help Abadi take Tikrit, I'll run the air traffic for your bombing runs on the Houthis."

In any event, there were conditions exacted from Abadi to get the airstrikes on the jihadis in Tikrit:
Mr. Abadi asked the ambassador Stuart E. Jones and Brett McGurk, the deputy special envoy for the battle with the Islamic State, for American help with the Tikrit offensive last week. The American side insisted that it could help only if operations were coordinated by a joint center with the American military in Baghdad and if there were clear targets.
The Americans wanted to work with Iraqi forces they had helped train and insisted on “deconflicting” with the Iranian-backed militias so they would not bomb them by mistake, American officials said. The Shiite militias have generally been on the east side of the Tigris River, the officials said, so it should be possible to avoid any errors.
Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. spoke with Mr. Abadi by telephone, and Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, the head of Central Command, developed a plan for strikes and concluded that the Iraqis had met the Americans’ condition, the officials said. Although Mr. Obama does not personally sign off on most airstrikes in the fight with the Islamic State, he was brought this decision for approval because it represented a more complicated shift in policy. [A more complicated shift in policy, to attack ISIS?]
American officials seemed heartened that Mr. Abadi had made a point of calling the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and Turkey last weekend to reassure them that once the Islamic State is rooted out of Tikrit, the Sunni city would be returned to the control of its Sunni police, not dominated by Shiite forces.
There you have it. Abadi, in order to get the air strikes, had to kowtow to Islamic State's sponsors to guarantee Sunni control of Tikrit post-ISIS.

The Abadi supplication is being spun as a U.S. victory, that Abadi clearly chose the United States over Iran, sending Iranian Quds Force chief Qassim Suleimani packing back to Tehran:
Mr. Obama approved the airstrikes after a request from Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on the condition that Iranian-backed Shiite militias move aside to allow a larger role for Iraqi government counterterrorism forces that have worked most closely with United States troops, American officials said. Qassim Suleimani, the commander of the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps who has been advising forces around Tikrit, was reported on Sunday to have left the area.
The United States has struggled to maintain influence in Iraq, even as Iran has helped direct the war on the ground against the Islamic State. But as the struggles to take Tikrit mounted, with a small band of Islamic State militants holding out against a combined Iraqi force of more than 30,000 for weeks, American officials saw a chance not only to turn the momentum against the Islamic State but to gain an edge against the Iranians.
If the Americans did not engage, they feared becoming marginalized by Tehran in a country where they had spilled much blood in the last decade, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
American officials now hope that an American-assisted victory by Mr. Abadi and his forces will politically bolster him and counter the view of Iranian officials, and many Iraqi Shiites, that Iran is Iraq’s vital ally. “Taking back Tikrit is important, but it gives us an opportunity to have our half of the operation win this one,” one American official said. “It’s somewhat of a gamble.”
The administration also hopes that a Tikrit victory with American air power will ensure that it is their coalition with Mr. Abadi’s forces, and not the faction led by Mr. Suleimani, that then proceeds to try to recapture the larger and more pivotal city of Mosul.
Islamic State is not the chief concern. There it is for all to see right there on the Gray Lady's front page -- a direct quote from an "America official." (Brett McGurk?) With this present war against Islamic State, and the last several years since the Arab Spring, we are seeing what will be a decades-long struggle -- a world war -- against the Shia. It will remake the West and likely destroy whatever vestiges of formal democracy remain there.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Present U.S. Troop Levels in Afghanistan to be Maintained (Likely for the Foreseeable Future): It's All About Those Drone Bases

The Ashraf Ghani stories continue to roll out. The president of Afghanistan is in the United States for another few days. Today he'll address a joint session of Congress, and then tomorrow he's off to New York and the United Nations. So we'll be treated to several more articles before the "Ralph Nader of Afghanistan" returns to Kabul.

None will be bigger than today's frontpager by Michael Shear and Mark Mazzetti, "U.S. to Delay Pullout of Troops From Afghanistan to Aid Strikes." Weeks of Obama administration off-the-record comments buttressed a campaign of "public diplomacy" designed for yesterday's POTUS announcement that the United States will be keeping troop levels for Afghanistan at 10,000:
WASHINGTON — President Obama’s decision to maintain troop levels in Afghanistan through 2015 is partly designed to bolster American counterterrorism efforts in that country, including the Central Intelligence Agency’s ability to conduct secret drone strikes and other paramilitary operations from United States military bases, administration officials said Tuesday.
Mr. Obama on Tuesday announced that he would leave 9,800 American troops in Afghanistan until at least the end of the year. The announcement came after a daylong White House meeting with President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan. The two men said the decision was a necessary response to the expected springtime resurgence of Taliban aggression and the need to give more training to the struggling Afghan security forces.
The issue here is the same one I mentioned last year -- the necessity of maintaining drone bases:
But two American officials said that a significant part of the deliberations on the pace of the withdrawal had been focused on the need for the C.I.A. and military special operations forces to operate out of two large military bases: Kandahar Air Base in southern Afghanistan and a base in Jalalabad, the biggest city in the country’s east. Reducing the military force by half from its current level, as planned, would have meant closing the bases and relocating many of the C.I.A.’s personnel and its contractors.
Jalalabad has been the primary base used by the C.I.A. to conduct drone strikes in the tribal areas of Pakistan. The drone operations were relocated there after the Pakistani government kicked the C.I.A. out of an air base inside Pakistan. The pace of drone strikes there has declined significantly since the peak during the early years of the Obama administration, but intelligence officials have lobbied to keep enough of a military presence in Afghanistan to allow the drone program to continue.
The intelligence community sees around 10,000 troops as a key baseline to keep counterterrorism operations going in the country,” said one American official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss classified operations in Afghanistan.
A threat of Islamic State jihadis is being invoked to maintain U.S. troop levels:
The resilience of Al Qaeda in the mountains that straddle the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan has surprised many American officials, and there are fears that the Islamic State could gain a foothold in the Afghan conflict. Mr. Ghani has repeatedly raised the specter of the Islamic State in comments ahead of his trip to Washington and during his visit.
Obama has said that by the end of his presidency there will only be 1,000 U.S. troops left in Afghanistan to guard the embassy in Kabul. Don't count on it. Whoever wins the White House will favor a maintenance of the drone bases in Jalalabad and Kandahar -- the collapse of the Iraqi Army last summer is front and center in the thoughts of Pentagon and State Department planners -- which will require backtracking on Obama's pledge.

What is interesting in all this is how the "Peace President" has presided over a transition to a "new normal" of perpetual war. It is now broadly accepted, if not stated, that the United States will be in a state of constant warfare -- fighting the proxies of official allies like Saudi Arabia, a monarchy that supports global jihad, and official foes like Iran and Syria (while working with them at the same time to keep the jihadis at bay).

This new normal is not going to play well with the American electorate who likes to be assured that peace is at the very least a policy aspiration. But the opinion of the American electorate is beside the point. The billionaires call the shots now. Voter turnout will continue to drop. Qualifications for voting will increase. Ten years from now the bad shape we are presently in could look pretty rosy.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Grexit -- There Is No Alternative

Yesterday ("Deadlines Near as Greece and Germany Seek a Consensus on Debt" by Alison Smale) leftist Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras was in Berlin meeting with rightist German chancellor Angela Merkel trying to find a path forward out of the funding impasse between Greece and the troika.

Naked Capitalism's Yves Smith ably adumbrated ("Leaked Tsipras Letter to Merkel Shows Increased Desperation, Warns of Imminent Default") the impasse as follows:
If the plan of the Troika was to starve the Tsipras government and produce either capitulation or a loss of domestic credibility, their effort appears to be on track.
FAZ reported that the Greek government is set to run out of funds by April 8. Tonight, the Financial Times reports that Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras sent a desperate-sounding letter to Angela Merkel on March 15. That appears to have led Merkel to meet with him at an EU conference last week and arrange for a one-on-one session tomorrow.
From the Financial Times account:
Alexis Tsipras, the Greek prime minister, has warned Angela Merkel that it will be “impossible” for Athens to service debt obligations due in the coming weeks if the EU fails to distribute any short-term financial assistance to the country…
In the letter, Mr Tsipras warns that his government will be forced to choose between paying off loans, owed primarily to the International Monetary Fund, or continue social spending. He blames European Central Bank limits on Greece’s ability to issue short-term debt as well as eurozone bailout authorities’ refusal to disburse any aid before Athens adopts a new round of economic reforms.
The troika refuses to release any new bailout money until Tsipras' Syriza-led government can provide a list of revenue-generators to replace the pension cuts and privatizations agreed to by the previous government of Antonis Samaras, as Jim Yardley explains in "In Greece, Syriza Struggles to Deliver Promises as Money Runs Out":
Greece’s finances have deteriorated as postelection anxiety over uncertainty about the bailout spurred a spike in bank withdrawals. Tax collections also plunged, raising questions about whether the government would be able to pay state workers and meet other obligations.
On Feb. 20, Greek leaders signed a four-month bailout extension with its three main creditors — the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the European Commission. Yet creditors have refused to release a critical 7.2-billion-euro, or about $7.8 billion, loan payment (money that Syriza had once vowed not to accept but that is now badly needed) until the government provides a list of acceptable structural reforms to replace pension cuts and other austerity measures that had been under consideration by the previous government.
To counterattack, Tsipras voiced support for the idea of German reparations. This from a story, "Syriza’s Call for German Reparations: A Bolivaran Tsipras?," by Joshua Tartakowsky which appeared on CounterPunch over the weekend:
In his speech to the Hellenic Parliament, Prime Minister Tsipras touched on the issue which both some Anglo-Saxon socialists and Conservative Germans would wish would have avoided. Tsipras brought to public view the issue of reparations of World War II, and the fact Germany did not pay back the interest-free forced loan made on the Greek bank by the German occupation forces until today. While some reparations were paid in the 1950s, these were quite small considering the damage and did not include the forced loan. Tsipras demanded reparations from Germany for the immense damage and killing caused during the brutal German occupation as a necessary act to restore historical justice. The parliament decided on the establishment of a committee led by economists and historians who will pursue the issue of reparations. The Greek Justice Minister said that if necessary, he would consider seizing German assets in Greece, including, for example, the Goethe Institutes in Athens and Thessaloniki and even homes of German citizens.
In the Merkel-Tsipras story that appears in today's paper Smale summarizes the sniping between Greece and Germany as follows:
Verbal hostilities between Greece and Germany mounted in recent weeks, with particular bitterness lacing the remarks of each country’s finance ministers. Last week, a controversy swirled over whether the Greek minister, Yanis Varoufakis, had made a provocative one-fingered gesture at Germany at a conference in Croatia two years ago.
More gravely, the question of whether Germany should pay more reparations to Greece for Nazi war crimes and forced loans has flared, with some leading figures on the German left ready to consider such payments.
The magazine Der Spiegel summed it all up with a cover this week superimposing a picture of Ms. Merkel on an old photograph of Nazi commanders at the Parthenon in Athens under the headline, “The German Übermacht.” In an accompanying article, it argued that fellow Europeans increasingly see Germany, which is Europe’s biggest economy, and its leaders as dominant. “Yet they are rather a weak than a strong hegemon,” Der Spiegel said of the Germans.
In bad news for Greece, Smale reports that Mario Draghi, head of the European Central Bank, refuses to allow Greek banks to issue new loans based on short-term Greek government debt: "In a blow to hard-pressed Greek banks, Mario Draghi, the president of the European Central Bank, said on Monday that Greece had not yet met conditions that would allow its debt to again be used to secure central bank loans."

Patience with Syriza-troika impasse, both from the right and the left, appears to be near its end. An unsigned Gray Lady editorial over the weekend, "The Greece Issue Breeds Brinkmanship in the Eurozone," marked this growing testiness among the few tepid Syriza advocates in the mainstream:
There is no doubt that Mr. Tsipras needs to move quickly to reform the Greek economy, which is running low on cash. Tax collections have fallen since his left-wing party, Syriza, took power in January; Greek businesses are complaining that they are not being paid for work they’ve done for the government; and some bigger companies have started moving cash to London. But pushing Greece into default by withholding the short-term financing it needs to pay its bills would be courting disaster.
The rumor is that Tsipras is in Berlin to secure better terms for the privatization of state assets, a red line he promised not to cross.

The fact is that the right is in ascent. The U.S. 2014 midterms, the recent elections in Israel and France, a decent but nonetheless modest showing for Podemos in Spain's Andalusia, all point to an estranged public tacking to the right. Syriza is carrying the weight of not only Greece but the entire global electoral left. A misstep by Tsipras will continue the complete hollowing out of social democracy.

Such high stakes mean that there is little chance of Germany or the troika loosening its chokehold. Syriza will be crushed at all costs in order to leave the field free for the neoliberals to continue a decades-long orgy of looting and pillaging.

Given that, Tsipras must soon realize there is no alternative to a Grexit.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Islamic State a Spook-Run Operation

One of the principal canards about Islamic State peddled in the Western press is that the caliphate is an indigenous formation growing out of grievances that Sunnis have with the Shiite-majority government of Iraq and the Alawites of Syria. But besides the high profile of the Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, where is there any evidence that ISIS is a homegrown movement? In fact, the overwhelming preponderance of evidence is that ISIS is exogenous to Iraq and Syria, attracting foreign fighters, thanks to a sophisticated online presence, to enter the caliphate through Turkey.

Patrick Cockburn has recently published a number of stories for The Independent describing life inside Islamic State. (The stories have been re-posted on the CounterPunch website.) Cockburn
interviews members of the growing Sunni diaspora in Iraqi Kurdistan, people, mostly from Anbar Province, who have fled the ISIS occupation of their towns and cities.

Cockburn's "The One-Day Siege: ISIS’s Conquest of Hit" is a good example:
It was on 4 October last year that Isis captured the small city of Hit, seizing complete control in the space of just a few hours. For the city’s 100,000 mostly Sunni residents the takeover by the self-proclaimed Islamic State has brought changes that some support, but others deeply resent. 
Among those living in Hit when Isis rolled in was Faisal, a 35-year-old government employee who is married with two children, and a keen observer of all that has befallen the agricultural centre and former transport hub over the past five months. 
He recently fled to the Kurdish capital, Erbil, where he described to me the rule of Isis and its impact on Hit, starting with the day the city was captured.
Faisal goes on to describe a religious police state where there is little money to pay for food, little communication with the outside world, and no work except for the jihadis -- all overseen by foreign fighters and imams:
The internet has not worked in Anbar Province for the last eight months, compelling people to use satellite internet connections that are monitored by Isis. More recently the group offered a limited internet service, though this is only available in internet offices and other locations monitored by the jihadist group. There is no internet access from private homes, while in the public locations, Faisal says, “Isis can spy on computers so they can see what you are surfing and to whom you are talking”.
Predictably, Isis focuses on religion and spreading its variant of Islam. Faisal says: “Many preachers (imams) were replaced by foreign preachers from the Arab world, mostly Saudis, Tunisians and Libyans, as well as Afghans. Some new imams are appointed temporarily just for Friday speech and prayer, while others are permanent appointments. Isis removed some of the old preachers who have left for Baghdad or KRG (the Kurdish-controlled region). These are often Sufis, whose beliefs are rejected by Isis.”
There are many other signs of Isis imposing its cultural agenda in Hit. Faisal says that “at the entrance to every main street and bazaar, there are Isis groups holding black dresses that cover the whole body including the face and head. If a woman does not have one, she must buy one [for about £8] and the money goes to the Isis treasury.”
Are people joining Isis in Hit? Faisal says they do, often for economic reasons. “I know many people in my neighbourhood in Hit who joined Isis,” he says. “They are paid little money, about 175,000 dinars (£80), but they say that the salary is enough because they also enjoy many privileges, including free fuel, cooking gas, sugar, tea, bread, and many other foodstuffs and services.
“Isis still has a strong financial basis. It confiscates the houses of the people who were previously employed in the police, courts, and security forces. These houses, and any furniture in them, are confiscated by the Sharia (legal or religious) court, where the judges are Libyan and Tunisian, though the other staff are locals. The ruling authority in Hit is headed by the military governor, the religious (legal) governor, the security governor and finally the administrative governor.”
Faisal’s account of life in Hit is confirmed by eyewitnesses from other parts of the Islamic State. Isis at first benefited from widespread popular relief that the Iraqi Army was gone, but there is deepening resentment against the enforcement of outlandish rules on personal behaviour that is contrary to local religious and social traditions. These include women being forced to wear the niqab (covering their faces), obligatory attendance at prayers and the destruction of mosques, such as the Younis mosque in Mosul, deemed by Isis to be un-Islamic shrines.
There is also the fear of conscription of young men to fight for the Islamic State, an obligation that is increasingly difficult to avoid and is leading many families to try to leave Isis-controlled territory, which is not easy to do.
But despite resentment by many at its takeover of mosques and schools, Isis is able to use these to propagate its views and to make converts – something that may strengthen the forces of the Islamic State. Conscription does not seem to have diluted the fanaticism of Isis fighters, or their willingness to take heavy casualties, according to Kurdish commanders who have come under attack by Isis units in recent months.
Local eyewitnesses confirm that the unpopularity of Isis is not universal. Sameer, a Kurdish shopkeeper in Mosul, told The Independent last November that “in spite of the coalition air strikes every night and every morning, Isis increases in terms of the number of its men and the territory they occupy”.
Since then, Isis has retreated from much of the Sinjar area west of Mosul, but Ali Hussein Mustafa, a 21-year-old university student who left Mosul last month, says that “many Isis men were much better than the fighters of the Iraqi Army in dealing with people and helping them”.
He says this better behaviour was not invariable and criticised Isis fighters at some checkpoints who harassed or swore at women whose face was not hidden. He added, however, that many people had now concluded that “Isis rule is no better, and maybe worse, than what they endured before [when the US or Iraqi government was in charge of Mosul from 2003 to 2014]”.
It should be said that Patrick Cockburn has always stuck to the "ISIS is an indigenous response to Shiite misrule of al-Maliki" argument, putting the leftist journalist in line with the U.S. State Department. But recently he published a story, "Is the Defeat of ISIS in Iraq Inevitable?," that sort of softened his pro-Sunni "It's all Maliki's fault" slant:
As Isis’s columns advanced last year, its fighters carried out massacres to spread fear just as Saddam Hussein had done against the Kurds and Shia a quarter of a century earlier. When the government’s Badush prison, near Mosul, was captured by Isis, its fighters slaughtered 670 Shia prisoners. At Camp Speicher, outside Tikrit, 800 Shia cadets were lined up in front of trenches and machine-gunned. Pictures of the scene resemble those of atrocities carried out by the German army in Russia in 1941. In August, when Isis fighters stormed into Kurdish-held regions, they targeted the Yazidis as “pagans” to be murdered, raped and enslaved.
To me it seems obvious that ISIS is a spook-run operation, meaning a government intelligence bureau is either at the control board or actively assisting a small leadership group in directing the caliphate. Popular movements are messy and enthusiastic, always either falling short or spilling over stated objectives in a public way. ISIS is nothing of the sort. It is opaque and mercenary; its messaging strictly controlled. No, this is definitely a top-down production.

When ISIS suffered a defeat recently in Tikrit at the hands of the Iraqi Army and Shiite militias working in concert with Kurdish pesh merga there was a prompt asymmetrical response: the terror attack targeting tourists at a museum in Tunisia and the suicide bombings at two Zaydi Shiite mosques in Sana. This reminded me of the old Rumsfeld neocon logic of "When you have a problem one way to solve it is to make it bigger."

Scott Shane had a story, a good one, that was featured prominently on The New York Times website for most of the weekend. In "From Minneapolis to ISIS: An American’s Path to Jihad," it is clear that the young Somali men from Minneapolis were able to hook up with ISIS recruiters at a mosque in Bloomington. Answer the question of who paid for their plane tickets and we'll be a little clearer how the ISIS network operates and who funds it.

And it will turn out that ISIS is no different than Al Qaeda, an organization funded and supported by the Gulf Sheikhdoms.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Colt 45 Chronicle #90

Here is a letter, written obviously after the end of an evening of too much to drink, to my friend Niall. You can almost see the yellow lamplight in the darkened apartment and taste the sour mash and the malt liquor.

I had a dream last night. My father and I were dressed in matching adidas track suits, making pick-ups and drop-offs driving a black Mercedes 4-door coupe. We could have have been Albanian traffickers. It all had a disreputable, surreptitious vibe. At one point we exited through a vestigial kitchen door that opened onto the hallway of an old apartment building to avoid men as they entered through the front door of the apartment.

I have an unused kitchen door like that (it bolts to the floor) in my apartment -- the building I live in is 105 years old -- and I had a kitchen door like that in the apartment I lived in for the five out of six years I attended U.C. Berkeley; that apartment building, or so the story went as told by the landlord, survived the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906.

My father and I in the dream went from exiting through the vestigial kitchen door to driving the Mercedes through an apple orchard at night under a bright moon. The ground was moist with fallen leaves. The dream seemed to last all night long. At one point we were in Manhattan.

Some truth was being revealed about the chaotic, rambling, underground destiny of the men of my family.

The drunken epistle below recapitulates my favorite fantasy of the time, a frequent coda to these sauced buddy letters, the one of the big house and the loving family who reside there in angelic perfection. A dream of youth that never came true.
Autumn 1989 
I don't get drunk enough to get as full in touch with the past as I used to. The beer is getting weaker and weaker and so is the malt liquor. So I've been moving on to the Jack, the Jack Daniels. That bourbon whiskey, well, shit, it's something that's far bigger and more incredible than I am. But who knows? Maybe I'm just chasing a skunk up a tree. Maybe it's all wrong. Maybe I'm just bored.
Hell, everybody is bored. 
That's the point, to find a way around it. The point is to find a way to always be satisfied with yourself. Of course this calls for a little self-torture. Kant tagged it "autonomy."
I hope you and Eve are treating each other well. It's a long hard lesson, but nothing satisfies like a spouse who is a best friend. There's nothing better -- no way, no doubt. 
Maybe someday we'll all have big houses and picnics with rosy-cheeked children tumbling down grassy hills. God. We're so young. But at the same time we have so completely passed up any chance at real openness and selflessness that whatever we do now will automatically be riven by forlornness and insincerity.
Aw, shit. Cat paws in the wind and a red dog spitting into a brown bag. -- The shit I want to say to you isn't even as good as a dusty glass jar of pennies hidden and lost in the hall closet of some dead Jesuit priest. But you're my buddy, and all the back slapping tearful giggling hokum that that entails . . . .

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Uncanny Avengers Annual #1

It's a pitch meeting in a corporate boardroom on Mojoworld. A Ronald Reaganesque chief executive presides. Mojo, the creative genius behind Mojoworld, answers to Reagan. Mojo's job is threatened; apparently, his last project, "Devil Dinosaur's Power Pack Antique Roadshow," is not attracting the number of viewers anticipated. Reagan opines, "Market research shows that dumb people love only what they think is ridicule-safe. They follow 'heat' because they secretly long for acceptance above all else."

Mojo then pitches "Avengers of the Supernatural!" as his next sure-fire slam-dunk blockbuster.

Uncanny Avengers Annual #1 is written by Rick Remender with art by Paul Renaud. It is an agile display of storytelling where the narrative deconstructs itself while propelling the plot forward. Certainly Rick Remender is a modern master,

Friday, March 20, 2015

Hippies vs. Punks: David Bowie's Low (1977)

We are approaching the heart of the matter with Hippies vs. Punks. At the heart of the matter -- which you will recall are the years 1975 to 1979, years when Punks appear on the scene to wipe out the last vestiges of the Hippies from the avant-garde -- are David Bowie and Brian Eno.

David Bowie and Brian Eno have more to do with the destruction of the Hippies than the Ramones, Sex Pistols and Patti Smith combined. First, as progenitors of the "Glam/Glitter Thermidor" and then New Wave.

Low (1977) is the first installment of the "Berlin Trilogy" -- followed by "Heroes" (1977) and Lodger (1979) -- hugely influential collaborations between Bowie and Eno which establish a new sonic paradigm as the decade draws to a close.

This week I decided to immerse myself in Low, listening basically non-stop from Monday morning until last night on the train home, after watching a documentary on Brian Eno -- Brian Eno: 1971-1977 - The Man Who Fell to Earth (2012) -- and learning that Eno was really the driving force behind Low and the key track on the album, "Warszawa." It is "Warszawa" that gives Joy Division its first name, Warsaw (which the band changed to Joy Division upon realizing that there was a London Punk group called Warsaw Pakt). Interestingly, the album that Ian Curtis listened to the night of his suicide is Iggy Pop's The Idiot (1977), an album that was released after Low but was actually recorded prior to it and is generally considered the opening salvo of the Berlin Trilogy since David Bowie produced it for his RCA label and has been quoted saying that he used Pop as a guinea pig for the development of a new sound.

So obviously the work that Bowie did at Château d'Hérouville in 1976 looms large in Hippies vs. Punks given that both The Idiot and Low were recorded there and those two albums provide bookends to one of the most important Post-Punk bands, Joy Division. (We'll return to Château d'Hérouville in a future Hippies vs. Punks post. It was there that Elton John produced Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (1973), another hugely devastating album for the Hippies.)

The story of Low is well known. Bowie, trying to rid himself of a cocaine addiction, abandoned Los Angeles, where he had recorded the extremely successful Station to Station (1976) in a drug-induced haze, and retreated to Europe. 

When Bowie hit a brick wall in production he called Brian Eno, whose Discreet Music (1975) was a personal favorite, and Eno arrived on the Continent with his EMS suitcase AKS synthesizer and worked his magic.

Immersed in the album all week there is of course the obvious. The first side is composed of pop songs ("Be My Wife" is the best of the bunch) with a New Wave vibe, something that must have sounded unique in January 1977 but today strikes one as fashionably au courant, and a second side of what Christgau derisively referred to as movie music. "Warszawa" does seem like a futuristic avant-garde musical interlude played during the intermission of Hollywood feature in the heyday of the studio system.

But my favorite track is the final one, "Subterraneans" which Bowie recorded as part of the soundtrack for the Nicolas Roeg film he starred in, The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), but which Roeg spiked in favor of a score written by "Papa" John Phillips, a Hippie founding father.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Fulsome U.S. Support for the Egyptian Police State Four Years After Arab Spring

It is easy to criticize the daily-newspaper industry as a "mask of enlightenment," a for-profit potpourri of the mundane and rudimentary that is increasingly obsolete in our digital age. Indeed, it is not hard to imagine in the not too distant future that only one or two dailies will be left: one conservative and one "liberal," national in scope and each representing a camp within the permanent, invisible government.

That being said, daily newspapers are still the foundation of any kind of articulate cultural consciousness that we possess as a body politic. What is trending on Twitter cannot -- I hope -- replace the daily newspaper.

Now and again the editorial board of The New York Times will publish a broadside that is the direct opposite of the muck they usually stovepipe on behalf of the United States Government. This morning is case in point. "Abetting Egypt’s Dictatorship" highlights the absolute bankruptcy of the self-proclaimed U.S. leadership on human rights when it comes Egypt. Let me quote it at length:
Senior administration officials see Egypt as an indispensable ally in the campaign against the Islamic State as well as in other foreign policy priorities in the region. But the Egyptian government’s crackdown on Islamist movements, including moderate ones who denounce the use of violence, is likely to lead to broader radicalization in communities that have no way to further their objectives and voice their grievances.
Since Mr. Sisi took power in July 2013, following a wave of protests against the country’s first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi, an Islamist, it has become increasingly clear that the Egyptian government has no intention of building democratic institutions or tolerating opposing views.
Civil society and pro-democracy organizations have been threatened or forced to shut down. The news media is tightly controlled, and protests are banned. Nearly all leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist movement that became the dominant political force in the country after the Arab Spring protests, are locked up.
While American officials have voiced concern about these trends in boilerplate language, they continue to provide Egypt with $1.3 billion in military aid each year and have only taken modest steps to condition the aid improvements in democratic governance. Much of the time, they merely express hope that progress is being made, while ignoring a level of brutality and repression that is worse than in the era of Hosni Mubarak.

The government, clearly eager for foreign investment, wants to appear as a legitimately elected government playing a constructive role in the region. But it is becoming increasingly clear that Egypt has become a dictatorship that justifies its abuses under the pretext of containing the threat posed by radical Islamists. A parliamentary election that was to be held this month has been indefinitely postponed. Journalists are languishing in jail. Courts have imposed mass death sentences following proceedings that lasted just minutes. While some American lawmakers have raised alarm and sought to cut off, or condition, the military aid package in recent years, they have been outmaneuvered by those who think that standing by the Sisi regime is a necessary evil in a volatile part of the world.

Last year, Congress gave the White House authority to keep Egypt’s military aid flowing without having to certify that the government respects human rights and is taking steps to govern democratically, conditions that had been in the previous spending bill. And, for the first time, lawmakers gave the State Department the right to keep as a classified secret its rationale for disbursing the aid.

Administration officials said that Mr. Kerry favors continuing the military aid and is awaiting a final decision from the White House. If the aid is extended, the United States would be abetting Egypt’s ruthless business as usual.
The restoration of Egypt's police state under Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, crushing the Arab Spring democracy movment, I think, in one form or another, is the trend that elites in all nations want to emulate. It is going to be hard to accomplish. But clearly it is the direction we are headed.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Tom Friedman Calls for U.S.-ISIS Collaboration

Israelis appeared to have given Benjamin Netanyahu his fourth term as prime minister. Assuming the vote was free and fair, commentators are forced to draw the conclusion that Netanyahu's anti-Arab fear-mongering in the campaign's final days was the key to Likud's success. Bibi raised the alarm that Israeli Arabs were voting in "droves," and he pledged that there would be no Palestinian state on his watch. How else to explain the reversal in momentum for Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni of the Zionist Union which was recorded by the last opinion polls conducted before yesterday's election?

Thomas Friedman in his column this morning, "Go Ahead, Ruin My Day," does not shy away from this conclusion -- that Netayanhu's racist appeals found a willing audience in the Israeli electorate:
Let’s start with Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud Party pretty well trounced the Labor Party leader, Isaac Herzog, in the race to form Israel’s next government. Netanyahu clearly made an impressive 11th-hour surge since the pre-election polls of last week. It is hard to know what is more depressing: that Netanyahu went for the gutter in the last few days in order to salvage his campaign — renouncing his own commitment to a two-state solution with the Palestinians and race-baiting Israeli Jews to get out and vote because, he said, too many Israeli Arabs were going to the polls — or the fact that this seemed to work.
Friedman goes on to apologize for Netayanhu, arguing that Likud could easily reverse course and re-adopt a two-state solution. But, in any event, so argues Friedman: "[T]he fact that some 350,000 settlers are now living in the West Bank, makes it hard to see how a viable two-state solution is possible anymore no matter who would have won."

In an upside down reading of contemporary history, Friedman then places all the blame for the toxic divisiveness of Israeli politics on Hamas for starting last summer's war in Gaza. Friedman seems to forget that it was Netanyahu's crackdown on the West Bank following the abduction and murder of three Israeli teenagers, a crackdown whose real goal was to re-arrest Hamas activists released earlier from prison after a negotiated settlement. Netanyahu was interested in stirring up trouble and driving a wedge between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. Palestinian authorities in the West Bank and Gaza had announced a unity government.

Friedman should ask himself, "Was it Hamas rockets that repeatedly targeted UN sanctuary schools?

What Friedman does -- and he has been doing it for a long time in his Wednesday-morning foreign affairs column -- is gussy up whatever the dominant elite wisdom is on the New York City to Washington D.C. I-95 corridor. For instance, for a long time he was a shameless pitchman for U.S.-led techno-capitalism and financialization. Then, when U.S.-led techno-capitalism and financialization led to the meltdown of the global economy, he moved on to something else to pitch, say, the Arab Spring, with never a word, an apologia, a mea culpa, a reassessment of his errant opinions. He was a booster of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. And when the U.S. began its roll back of the Arab Spring, Friedman did an about-face, albeit with some qualifications.

Friedman exists to buttress whatever the prevailing paradigm is in the U.S. capital(s).

That is why it is illuminating that in this morning's column Friedman is advocating for U.S. collaboration with Islamic State:
O.K., so we learn to live with Iran on the edge of a bomb, but shouldn’t we at least bomb the Islamic State to smithereens and help destroy this head-chopping menace? Now I despise ISIS as much as anyone, but let me just toss out a different question: Should we be arming ISIS? Or let me ask that differently: Why are we, for the third time since 9/11, fighting a war on behalf of Iran?
This is nothing new. At the end of last spring Friedman warned against hurting the Islamic State jihadis too much for fear that doing so would empower Iran.

Friedman continues:
ISIS, with all its awfulness, emerged as the homegrown [!] Sunni Arab response to this crushing defeat of Sunni Arabism — mixing old pro-Saddam Baathists with medieval Sunni religious fanatics with a collection of ideologues, misfits and adventure-seekers from around the Sunni Muslim world. Obviously, I abhor ISIS and don’t want to see it spread or take over Iraq. I simply raise this question rhetorically because no one else is: Why is it in our interest to destroy the last Sunni bulwark to a total Iranian takeover of Iraq? Because the Shiite militias now leading the fight against ISIS will rule better? Really?
Friedman as an oracle of the power elite is telling us what should be readily apparent to anyone who reads the news everyday. The enemy is not Islamic State. The enemy is Iran. It is a very difficult argument to make. Iran and its allies don't go around burning people in cages, crucifying, beheading, etc. Iran is civilized. A similar pivot was accomplished in the invasion of Iraq when a confused America public was made to believe that a Baathist Saddam Hussein was somehow connected to Al Qaeda's 9/11. Can lightning strike twice in the same benighted collective consciousness?

One of the false arguments that is frequently repeated by people like Friedman is that ISIS is homegrown. This is contradicted by reporting found in Friedman's own paper. The leadership of Islamic State, given that al-Baghdadi is an Iraqi, is predominantly foreign -- a lot of fighting commanders come from the Caucasus.

We're approaching endgame. Netanyahu's victory is a harbinger. Will the public allow itself to be herded into this "clash of civilizations"?

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Mike Huckabee's Presidential Aspirations

There was an endearing article by Trip Gabriel in yesterday's paper on "rube in chief" and perennial "possible presidential candidate" Mike Huckabee.

In "Huckabee Pursues Unconventional Ways to Fund a Campaign," Gabriel outlines how the former Governor of Arkansas, who recently stepped down as a talk-show host for FOX to ready himself for the campaign trail, fronts for a quack diabetes cure:
In a wood-paneled study lined with books and framed family photos, the prospective presidential candidate looks into the camera. “I’m Mike Huckabee,” he says with all the folksy charm that propelled a career as a preacher, politician and broadcaster. 
But this is no campaign ad. It is an Internet infomercial for a dubious diabetes treatment, in which Mr. Huckabee, who is contemplating a run for the Republican nomination in 2016, tells viewers to ignore “Big Pharma” and instead points them to a “weird spice, kitchen-cabinet cure,” consisting of dietary supplements
“Let me tell you, diabetes can be reversed,” Mr. Huckabee says. “I should know because I did it. Today you can, too.” 
I have no quibble with Huckabee's critique of the pharmaceutical industry or the idea that “Most big pharma companies don’t know squat about how to reverse your diabetes.” What bothers me is that Huckabee, who got his professional start working as a staffer for televangelist James Robison, is just fleecing his fellow rubes:
Mr. Huckabee, who lost more than 100 pounds after being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in 2003, says in the video, “Techniques just like you’re going to find in this kit worked for me.”
Asked this month at an appearance in Iowa if he had used cinnamon and chromium picolinate to reverse his diabetes, he said he had not. “No, I reversed it by taking better care of my health,” he said. Pressed about the dietary supplements promoted by the company he endorses, for which he was paid an undisclosed fee, he said: “I’ll do anything that promotes good health. Yes, sir.”
Mr. Huckabee’s spokeswoman, Alice Stewart, said his contract to promote the diabetes cure ended the first week in March. “It was something created several months ago, back in 2014, but due to possible future plans, they have concluded the relationship,” Ms. Stewart said.
Yet, as of this week, the maker of the Diabetes Solution Kit, Barton Publishing of Brandon, S.D., still prominently featured Mr. Huckabee’s endorsement on its website. Its chief executive, Joe Barton, seemed to contradict the statement that his deal with Mr. Huckabee had ended. “We are abiding by all terms set forth in the contract which is confidential in nature,” he said in an email message.
He disputed that there was a scientific consensus that cinnamon, a spice, and chromium picolinate, a mineral, were ineffective in lowering blood sugar levels associated with diabetes. “It flat-out works for people!” he wrote.
Although supplements line the shelves of pharmacies and supermarkets, scientific organizations say the evidence for their help in treating diabetes, the seventh leading cause of death in the United States, comes up short.
The American Diabetes Association advises, “Research has not been able to prove that dietary or herbal supplements (including omega-3 supplements, cinnamon and other herbs) help to manage diabetes.”
David Schardt, senior nutritionist for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said: “When you look at good studies, cinnamon and chromium don’t have an effect. There are some crumby studies that show they have some effect.” The poor research, he added, largely was done in China, Iran and Turkey.
Mr. Barton does not appear to sell dietary supplements directly, only booklets about “natural remedies” for a range of ailments, including acid reflux and low testosterone.
A number of customers of Barton Publishing have complained online about exorbitant and unauthorized charges to credit and debit cards. This reporter ordered the 95-page booklet promoted by Mr. Huckabee, for an advertised $19.97 for a downloadable copy and $19.95, plus shipping, for a printed copy, and found a $120.08 charge to his Visa card, which included a $67 coaching video that was not ordered. Mr. Barton said fewer than 1 percent of customers complained about overcharges, which he said were the result of user error.
Mr. Huckabee, who earlier this year released a book, “God, Guns, Grits and Gravy,” celebrates the populist culture and values in the “flyover” states, the political identity he is preparing to run on. His manifesto appeared before he endorsed the diabetes cure, which includes numerous foods to cut from one’s diet. One of those on the list: grits.
All in all, a delightful piece of journalism, one that makes the Gray Lady's urban, elite audience feel elevated and enlightened. Nonetheless, Gabriel's story raises interesting issues: rampant Type 2 diabetes in the United States due to an obesity epidemic, and the persistence of a paranoid, "old, weird America" that believes in junk science delivered by a Southern Baptist televangelist type whose past is dotted by so many lies the screen should be opaque.

The problem with a Huckabee candidacy from a political point of view is that for every “God, Guns, Grits and Gravy” boob he brings to the polls, he will drive three suburban "soccer moms" to the voting booth to support Jeb Bush in the primary. Soccer moms are threatened by hayseeds who wave the Holy Bible.