Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Colt 45 Chronicle #94

I thought I left my store discount card at the grocery last Tuesday. So after I put my groceries away I went back out to the store. When I got there I asked the cashier if I I had left my card on the counter; he told me I had not. I rifled once again through my wallet. And there it was, tucked in interior compartment. Somehow I had failed to look there when I was at home.

I took that as a sign that I shouldn't have to prepare dinner from scratch. There is a decent Vietnamese restaurant on a corner between the grocery store and my apartment building. I haven't been there in a while, years really. My last steady girlfriend and I used to go there now and then.

I walked in. The place was full. The sun was shining. The front of the restaurant is a wall of glass that opens to the sidewalk. I went to the cashier and asked for some vegetarian noodles. She told me to have a seat. It would be ten minutes.

I sat down and looked around and noticed that everyone in the restaurant was young, late teens to early 30s. A contemporary dance-music song was throbbing on the sound system. A young woman sang something about "American freedom" or "American mopeds." I can't remember. It had a thumping, ass-pumping synthesized bass riff.

It was odd to be in the room where I was decades older than anyone else, including the restaurant staff, who all looked as if they were children. At work I am, at fifty years, one of the youngest. The mood in the restaurant was buoyant, generally happy, carefree. I found it quite pleasant, a welcome departure from my everyday work environment where people are exhausted, morose and despise one another.

When I was a student at the university I was a big fan of the pre-Marxist Georg Lukacs. I read closely his neo-Kantian Soul and Form and his Hegelian The Theory of the Novel; both were thin volumes that packed a wallop. What attracted me to the young Lukacs was the sense that he was writing and philosophizing from a "buzzed" state; that what he was after in his theorizing was "a springboard to the ultimate."

This hope or belief, that the ultimate -- whatever it may be -- is achievable, is what (consciously or not) animates young people and makes their company enlivening. Young people are Romantics. It takes decades of toil at soulless jobs to leech this Romantic sensibility from our bones.

The note below was addressed to my best college chum, Mark, on the occasion of his 23rd birthday. I apologize for the sporadic nature of these "The Colt 45 Chronicle" posts. The project is ending with more a whimper than a bang. I was a confused young man who drank a lot and was trying to be true to friends and my wife, but I couldn't see a clear way forward. I didn't believe very much in myself.
"But here what mattered was a passive capacity for experiencing life. The Romantics' philosophy of life was based -- even if never quite consciously so -- on their passive life-experiencing capacity. For them the art of living was one of self-adaptation, carried through with genius, to all events of life. They exploited to the full and raised to the status of necessity everything that fate put in their path; they poeticized fate, but did not mold or conquer it. The path they took could only lead to an organic fusion of all given facts, only to a beautiful harmony of images of life, but not to controlling life."
Georg Lukacs, "On the Romantic Philosophy of Life"

-- Written by someone who was something we're not, twenty-two. But twenty-two was the year we got together and did all the things that we can say we did. Now, which is twenty-three, we can sit back on our poetic haunches and wax ecstatic about sniffing bullets and gulping poison -- a poor but true and suitable fate for two who are so concerned with the idea of "controlling life." 
So maybe next year, when twenty-four looms large on your horizon -- after I've already been rapped by nature's sweet sting -- I'll point out another essay in this very volume and tell you how the author composed it at a callow and dewy, but nonetheless brilliant, twenty-three; at which point, we'll trade punches, swap stories about Jesus (or some other eternally suffering man-god) and forget the myth of our elevated youth.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Miles Morales: The Ultimate Spider-Man #12

Brian Michael Bendis is a giant. One of his lasting achievements will be the creation of Miles Morales, the black Spider-Man of Marvel's Ultimate Universe (Earth-1610, as opposed to the primary Marvel Universe featuring Earth-616). Begun in 2011, Marvel recently concluded Mile Morales' run as The Ultimate Spider-Man in issue #12. Bendis will move Mile Morales over to Ultimate End, a core chapter in the Secret Wars crossover event that is rumored to be the end of the Ultimate Universe.

It is hard to believe that Marvel will mothball a magnetic superhero like Miles Morales, one who was drawn up in the heady days of the post-2008 Obama landslide. The less wise and jaded among us were hopeful that "change you can believe in" was indeed coming our way. Boy, were we wrong.

One of the ways that Obama has been such a disappointment is in his administration's support for the continuing privatization of the American public education system. Miles Morales goes to one of these privatized Gates Foundationesque charter schools, Brooklyn Visions Academy. (For an excellent primer on this topic -- the destruction of the U.S. public education system -- check out the "Notes from the Editors" in the June issue of the Monthly Review.)

Having recently finished Cathy Wilkerson's Flying Close to the Sun, there is no doubt that '60s radicalism -- the civil rights and antiwar movements -- was fueled in large part by the excellent system of public and non-corporate private education in the post-WWII United States. Good education will create an unquenchable appetite for the truth, something incompatible with the inequality produced by capitalism.

Bendis' Miles Morales stories were always concise and clearly written, with matching artwork first by Sara Pichelli and then David Marquez which featured a style that was Hyperrealistic. The panels were airy, the colors solid -- everything in its place and ascertainable. But the overarching narrative was not. Peter Parker's death at the hands of the Green Goblin, the alter-ego of a corporate titan named Norman Osborn whose diabolical research was also responsible for the origin of Miles Morales' super-spider powers; Miles' criminal uncle Aaron, a.k.a., the Prowler; the conflicted, unclear role of the government agency S.H.I.E.L.D., etc.

If the original Steve Ditko high-school Spider-Man of the early-to-middle 1960s had a center, which was Peter Parker's Midtown High School in Queens with its baleful jocks and cruel girls led by Flash Thompson, a hallmark of Miles Morales: The Ultimate Spider-Man is the lack of a center. Miles Morales is a true Baudrillardian hero, a simulacra of the original Spider-Man. The world we inhabit today has no center, only infinite digital copies.

Below are nine scans from Mile Morales: The Ultimate Spider-Man #12. Miles, on the brink of vivisection, goes nova and demolishes Hydra and Doctor Doom. The last two scans show an impending collision with an Earth from an alternate universe (the main New Avengers narrative).

Friday, May 29, 2015

Hippies vs. Punks: The Ace of Cups

To keep with the San Francisco theme of last week's Hippies vs. Punks post I decided to return to an exploration of one the bands that appeared in the seminal but little known Aquarian Family Festival. This free multi-day rock concert at San Jose State in May of 1969 is important because it preceded and provided something of a template for the super-historical Woodstock. Most of the bands that performed at the Aquarian Family Festival were San Francisco psychedelic Hippie groups.

The Ace of Cups was an all-women five-piece rock 'n' roll band with a perfect Hippie pedigree; their first big gig was at The Panhandle in Haight-Ashbury warming up for Jimi Hendrix in early 1967 (a few months after the Human Be-In in Golden Gate Park) and principal songwriter and singer Denise Kaufman (shown in the Ralph Gleason West Pole documentary) was conked on the head and severely injured by a flying beer bottle during the Hell's Angels riot at Altamont, an event widely accepted to have signaled the demise of the Hippie.

The Ace of Cups never recorded an album. Close to being signed on more than one occasion by a major label, offers were spurned by the band's management in hopes of a more lucrative deal down the line. The big payday never materialized and the band broke up. Denise Kaufman moved to Hawaii. But in 2003 Big Beat Records released the superb compilation  It's Bad for You But Buy It!, which is mostly live material.

I have been listening to It's Bad for You But Buy It! non-stop all week. It is an incredible document. (Ignore rock historian Richie Unterburger's condescending review of the album.) Of the many stellar tracks, my favorite is "Taste of One" by Denise Kaufman:

Patrick Lundborg's "Denise Kaufman & The Ace of Cups" is a must-read introduction to the band.

Another tremendous cut from It's Bad for You But Buy It! is the rock rendition of Mongo Santamaria's "Afro Blue":

Quicksilver Messenger Service is the band most often cited as an influence for The Ace of Cups. The bands were friendly with one another. (You can certainly hear the John Cipollina guitar sound on Mary Ellen Simpson's solo in the West Pole video at the top of the post.) Lead guitarist Simpson penned the excellent "Pretty Boy":

The Ace of Cups remind me of a psychedelic proto-L7. Strong women being women, equal to any group of men. It is a tragedy that they never produced a record back in the Hippie heyday. At least we have It's Bad for You But Buy It!, a line from the band's feminist, anti-consumerist, anti-marketing manifesto, "Glue":

You are the one (yeah yeah) You are the one Well you can’t have the glue until you buy A model too now baby, yeah (I love glue!) No you can’t have the glue until you buy A model too yeah baby (at Madison Avenue) And the model is nine to five Too many bees in one big hive
You are the one You are the one Have you read the society paper today now I’m telling you just what to feel You are the one that must find your way I say that you have the key, yeah
You can’t have the glue until you buy A model too now baby, yeah (I love glue!) No you can’t have the glue until you buy A model too yeah baby (I love glue!) And the model is nine to fiveToo many bees in one big hive
You are the one (yeah yeah) You are the one that must buy
Buy it, buy it, it’s bad for you but buy it. Buy it, buy it, it’s bad for you but buy it.
Hello ladies, how are you feeling today? Are you feeling unloved, unwanted and miserable? Is this because no-one loves you? If this is so, it’s because you do not have our new improved product. For if you’d have our product, everyone would love you. Are you tired of being the dull drab, uninteresting self that you are? Would you like to be transformed into the new exciting, mystical alluring essence of your being? If so you had better buy our product.You’d be amazed at what our product can do for you!
Buy it, buy it, it’s bad for you but buy it You’ve got to Buy it! You buy it. Bad! Buy! Why! Better buy that!
You are the oneYou are the one
Well you can’t have the glue until you buy A model too yeah, now (I love glue!) No you can’t have the glue until you buy A model too yeah, yeah, yeah yeah, yeah, yeah And the model is nine to five Too many bees in one big hive
You are the oneYou are the one that must buy

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Yemen Back in the News + Three Million Internally Displaced Iraqis and Rising + French Move to Torpedo P5+1 + Bum Rush on for Renewal of Russian Sanctions

Recent ISIS victories in Ramadi and Palmyra crowded news of the Saudi terror bombing of Yemen not only off the front page of the newspaper but out of the Gray Lady altogether. Today's report from Mohammed Ali Kalfood and Kareem Fahim, "Medical Need Climbs Alongside Death Toll in Yemen," is the first full story to appear in The New York Times in ten days.

And the news is not good. The Saudis and the Houthis are engaged in cross-border clashes in Yemen's north; Saudis continue their aerial bombardment of Sana, regardless of the civilian death toll; and the basic infrastructure of the country is being thoroughly demolished, to the point now that it is estimated that one-third of Yemen's inhabitants are in need of urgent medical care. As Kalfood and Fahim report,
In the absence of negotiations, the military conflict has grown in intensity. Areas in northern Yemen near the Saudi border have become a fiercely contested front in recent weeks, with both the Houthis and the Saudis mounting a series of deadly cross-border attacks. 
The airstrikes in the capital on Wednesday morning followed a familiar pattern, with Saudi-led attacks against military targets in populated areas setting off secondary explosions that sent shrapnel hurtling toward civilian homes nearby. 
Witnesses said the airstrikes hit the headquarters of a counterterrorism unit that had received training and financing from the United States before the conflict. The attack occurred around 10:30 a.m., as Houthi recruits were gathering there to receive weapons. Explosions in the area continued for hours afterward, witnesses said. 
In a statement on Wednesday, the World Health Organization said that nearly 2,000 people had been killed in the fighting since March, including “hundreds of women and children.” Out of a population of 24 million, the organization said, some 8.6 million people “are in urgent need of medical help,” both for war-related injuries and for common medical conditions. 
Hospitals around the country have closed because of shortages of staff members and fuel, and medicines for diabetes, cancer and hypertension are no longer available. The organization added that “outbreaks of polio and measles are also serious risks.”
In Iraq, there are three million internally displaced persons. The UN estimates that number will grow by an additional one million as the Iraqi counteroffensive to retake Anbar builds momentum. Tim Arango, a rare Gray Lady reporter not known to peddle USG infowar talking points, toes the anti-Shiite line this morning with "Sunnis Fleeing ISIS Find Few Doors Open Elsewhere in Iraq." The gist of the story is that the Shiite-controlled Iraqi government is being ruthlessly sectarian by requiring refugees from Anbar to have a sponsor in Baghdad if they want to settle in the city.

Arango does include a modest one paragraph demurrer where he mentions that the Kurds are also loath to wave through refugees from the Sunni heartland:
Even in the northern Kurdish region, long a haven for civilians fleeing Iraq’s turmoil, the authorities are reluctant to accept large numbers of Arabs, worsening the country’s ethnic divisions and adding to the sense that the very cohesion of Iraq is being pulled apart.
The reason the government has some sort of policy in place on the internally displaced is to prevent jihadi suicide bombers from gaining unfettered access to Baghdad. Reasonable. One would expect far worse in the United States if it were facing similar pressures.

In any event, the United Nations has burned through the $500 million the Saudis donated last year to deal with the humanitarian crisis that their jihadis unleashed in Iraq. Now an additional $700 million is needed. I wonder what the total UN humanitarian budget for Yemen, Syria and Iraq is. Who is going to pay it?

The P5+1 negotiations seem to be going off the rails with French foreign minister Laurent Fabius demanding that any final deal must include "anytime, anywhere" inspections, something that Ayatollah Khamenei ruled out in a May 20 statement.

It seemed to me that the Israelis responded with unusual calm when Obama announced at the beginning of April a tentative accord with Iran on its nuclear program. The fact that AIPAC-ally Bob Corker worked so diligently with the administration to pass compromise legislation allowing a congressional role in reviewing the agreement without killing it also seemed odd to me.

All of which makes sense if the Netanyahu government has a fail safe in the form of a French veto. The Hollande government is truly one of the worst; it almost makes Cameron's Tories look bright and shiny.

Then there is the latest outbreak of incitement against Russia. Apparently the Kiev junta is blocking all cargo shipments from Russia to Crimea. This coincides with the latest infowar volley asserting Russian military penetration of Ukraine. Both I'm sure are meant to build support in the EU for a re-authorization of Russian sanctions set to sunset in July.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Battle for Ramadi: Iraq's War of Liberation, U.S. Double Game Exposed

The story this morning is that a convoy of Iraqi Army troops and Shiite militia on their way to take part in the counteroffensive to retake Ramadi was hit by Islamic State suicide bombers, killing 55. That is at least how the Qatar-based Al Jazeera puts it in "ISIL suicide attacks target Iraq military convoys":
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group has reportedly carried out a series of suicide attacks on military convoys northeast and southeast of the city of Fallujah, killing at least 55 people, Al Jazeera has learnt.
Three blasts on Tuesday struck army convoys travelling in Anbar province to take part in a planned offensive aimed at retaking the provincial city of Ramadi from ISIL, Al Jazeera's Imran Khan, reporting from Baghdad, said.
He said that the attacks were a "very big blow" to the military.
ISIL has routinely used car bomb attacks to a "devastating effect" against Iraqi forces, he added.
"Car bombs have proven to be a very big problem for the Iraqi security forces," he said, noting that the tactic played a major part in the capture of Ramadi.
Brigadier General Saad Maan Ibrahim, the spokesman for the Joint Military Command, gave a lower death toll. He told The Associated Press that 17 troops were killed in the attacks.
The bombings came as Iraqi forces prepare for a massive bid to retake the capital of mainly Sunni Muslim province.
Thousands of troops and allied Shia militiamen have been deployed to the area to retake territory seized by ISIL since last year.
But if one consults the AP story where Brigadier General Saad Maan Inbrahim is quoted, "Multiple IS Suicide Attacks in Iraq's Anbar Kill 17 Troops," it is not even clear that the troops killed by the suicide bombers were on their way to Ramadi; rather, they were part of a back-and-forth effort to secure a vital section of canal outside Fallujah:
Islamic State extremists unleashed a wave of suicide attacks targeting the Iraqi army in western Anbar province, killing at least 17 troops in a major blow to government efforts to dislodge the militants from the sprawling Sunni heartland, an Iraqi military spokesman said Wednesday. 
The attacks came just hours after the Iraqi government on Tuesday announced the start of a wide-scale operation to recapture areas under the control of the IS group in Anbar. 
Brig. Gen Saad Maan Ibrahim, the spokesman for the Joint Military Command, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the attacks took place outside the Islamic State-held city of Fallujah late the previous night. 
The militants struck near a water control station and a lock system on a canal between Lake Tharthar and the Euphrates River where army forces have been deployed for the Anbar offensive, he said. 
Ibrahim added that the Islamic State extremists used a sandstorm that engulfed most of Iraq on Tuesday night to launch the deadly wave of bombings. He said it was not clear how many suicide attackers were involved in the bombings but they hit the military from multiple directions. 
Last month, the water station near Fallujah fell into the hands of IS militants — following attacks that also included multiple suicide bombings and that killed a general commanding the 1st Division and a dozen other officers and soldiers. 
Iraqi government forces recaptured the station a few days later. Fallujah lies to the east of the Anbar provincial capital of Ramadi, which was captured by the IS militants nearly two weeks ago in what was a major, humiliating defeat for Iraqi troops at the hands of the extremists. 
The Iraqi operation to retake Anbar, which is said to be backed by Shiite militias and Sunni pro-government fighters, is deemed critical in regaining momentum in the fight against the Islamic State. 
The IS group captured Ramadi in Iraq and the Syrian ancient town of Palmyra earlier this month, showing that it is able to advance in both countries despite months of U.S.-led airstrikes.
I wonder where  Al Jazeera got its 55 fatalities. No source is quoted.

What we are witnessing is a U.S. "double game" in Iraq and Syria under increasing pressure of exposure. This double game is a classic Ring of Gyges scenario where the U.S. portrays itself as pure and just and resolute in doing battle with the "evil incarnate" caliphate of Islamic State while surreptitiously doing what it can to make sure that ISIS continues to gain and hold territory at the expense of Iraq and Syria.

Why is the U.S. doing this? Because Iraq and Syria are allies of Iran, an arch foe of Uncle Sam and his corrupt despotic allies in the Gulf.

I am not a great student of the history of military campaigns, but I can't think of another example of a great power waging a public war against an enemy at the same time it seeks to bolster it.

A principal means by which the U.S. is waging its "double game" in Iraq and Syria is through information war and thought control in the media. The meme repeated in almost every story about ISIS in Iraq for the last several months is that Iraqi Shiite Popular Mobilization Forces must not take a major role in the fighting for fear that they will spread sectarian war to the Sunni-majority areas of the country. This argument is dutifully repeated time after time as if it were ancient wisdom without once mentioning the obvious: Why banish proven fighters from the battlefield for the alleged crime of sectarian hatred when practitioners of a Sunni extremist sect continue to murder and plunder and add territory to their caliphate?

This makes absolutely no sense. Nonetheless the argument is never challenged and always repeated. This is how the "big lie" works. Even a good reporter like Tim Arango, whose stories are usually reliable and illuminating, must repeat the U.S.-purveyed nonsense without question, as he does in his latest dispatch from Iraq, "Iraqi Army and Shiite Militias Begin Push to Take Ramadi From ISIS":
The United States has been training Iraqi Army recruits since December, though none of the soldiers trained so far have entered the battle. American officials have also pushed Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to increase aid to the Sunni tribes who were fighting the militants in Anbar and to avoid sending Shiite militiamen into that fight, fearing that it could intensify sectarian hostilities.
The U.S. wants the Iraqi parliament to rebuild the Sons of Iraq, the Sunni Awakening movement that is accepted to have played a role in beating back Al Qaeda in Iraq, the ISIS precursor, during the U.S. occupation. But parliament has been reticent to do so because of very legitimate fears that any money or weaponry will just end up in the hands of ISIS fighters. The war is now and you stick with forces who have been currently effective on the battlefield. And this is the Popular Mobilization Forces.

The stakes are high in the battle to retake Ramadi. The U.S. is going to do what it can to make sure the Iraqi Shiite militias aren't effective. I interpret SecDef Ashton Carter's bizarre public rebuke of the Iraqi forces for losing Ramadi as laying the foundation for an eventual U.S. ultimatum to Iraqi prime minister Abadi: either you let us manage the ground troops, or we withhold our air power. This would guarantee the kind of lengthy siege and stalemate that is a hallmark of the war in Syria.

The silver lining in recent U.S. maneuvers is that its double game has been broadly exposed. Abadi can longer be a player in the U.S.-led ruse to aid ISIS without being ousted by his Dawa Party. Even liberal outlets in the U.S. are beginning to point out how the Western media supports the caliphate.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Neoliberal Consensus Faces Difficulty at the Polls

Plenty of news over the weekend points to an electorate ready to make changes. First, in Spain, where municipal and regional elections were held on Sunday, two leftists, Ada Colau in Barcelona and Manuela Carmena in Madrid, came out on top in the mayor's race. Carmena was not the top vote-getter, but she is expected to govern in coalition with the Socialists.

The election is being interpreted as a triumph for upstart Podemos, led by the youthful Pablo Iglesias. As Raphael Minder reports in "Spain’s Local Election Results Reshape Political Landscape":
The success of anti-establishment candidates, who ran for small local parties, in the two largest Spanish cities underlined the fragmentation of Spain’s politics, as well as the precipitous slide of the governing Popular Party of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, ahead of general elections this year.
The elections also confirmed the erosion of Spain’s bipartisan system. The Popular Party and the main opposition Socialist Party together won just over half of the vote on Sunday, compared with two-thirds in the last election in 2011. Instead, Podemos (We Can), a far-left party, and — to a lesser extent — Ciudadanos (Citizens), a center-right party, emerged as the new kingmakers of Spanish politics. Now come complicated negotiations to form new regional governments and city administrations across the country.
In 2011, the Popular Party swept to power as voters punished the Socialists for sinking Spain into economic crisis. Four years later, Mr. Rajoy has been urging voters not to risk derailing Spain’s recent return to growth by entrusting economic management to left-leaning or untested political parties. The government is forecasting growth of 2.9 percent this year, which Mr. Rajoy expects to be the strongest among major European nations.
However, “there is a broader change in the political mood in Spain that the Popular Party doesn’t seem to be able to grasp,” said Manuel Arias-Maldonado, a politics professor at the University of Málaga. Sunday’s results, he added, show that the Popular Party had “false confidence that economic recovery would suffice” to win elections.
Pablo Iglesias, the national leader of Podemos, told supporters on Sunday night that the results in Spain’s largest cities showed the end of the bipartisan system. In Valencia, Spain’s third-largest city, Rita Barberá, the conservative mayor, is also expected to resign after 24 years. Ms. Barberá’s Popular Party won, but with an insufficient margin to stop left-leaning parties from forming a coalition and removing her from office.
“The big cities are the big engine of change in Spain,” Mr. Iglesias said on Sunday. He went on to predict that the change in the country’s political landscape would be confirmed in general elections to be held at the end of the year. 
Such a forecast seems premature. But Sunday’s outcome suggests that the days of clear-cut results in Spanish elections are numbered, replaced instead by four-way races that will force parties to enter into the largely uncharted waters of coalition negotiations.
Iglesias is correct. Big cities are the engine for change. And that is why Hillary should be very concerned. There is an anti-incumbent, no more "business as usual" virus that has infected the electorate. Whether it is in Poland, where an anti-establishment campaign by rocker Pawel Kukiz threw the election into a runoff that led to the defeat of incumbent president Bronislaw Komorowski by challenger Andrzej Duda, or in Alberta, the "Texas of  Canada," home base of conservative prime minister Stephen Harper, where Rachel Notley of the New Democratic Party was sworn in as premier, voters are casting about for a way to get rid of the mainstream ruling parties.

It isn't going to be an easy path forward to meaningful change. As Minder notes in his piece on the Spanish elections, coalition governments are difficult creations. And in Alberta, the 51 members of the New Democratic Party recently elected to the provincial legislature, are being labeled novices. If true, the odds are long that there will be any grand transformation in Calgary. My experience with the Green Party, a political organization that attracted mostly idealistic newcomers, is that novices make poor political workers. Look at the Five Star Movement in Italy, another novice-filled political organization; it has not been the transforming force as advertised.

Nonetheless transformation is knocking at the door. Though the corporate mainstream has increasingly embraced LGBT rights in the last five years, Ireland's approval of a same-sex marriage referendum by a super-majority last Friday is noteworthy. Long considered a colony of the Roman Catholic Church, the same-sex marriage vote proves the Irish are shedding their religious shackles. Many of the referendum photos I saw featured a smiling Gerry Adams of Sinn Féin holding a rainbow flag. Add Sinn Féin to the growing list of parties rising to challenge the neoliberal orthodoxy.

While it is true the U.S. political system is the most sclerotic in the Western world, and therefore resistant to the kind of change percolating in Europe and Canada, I am not convinced at this point that Hillary is unbeatable. While Bernie Sanders is no staunch opponent of the American perpetual war machine, his take on inequality and economic justice is going to be a big problem for the Clintons, as this passage from the First Draft reveals:
Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont won’t condemn Hillary Rodham Clinton for raking in millions in speech fees and campaign donations. But he warns it could curb her effectiveness in challenging corporate interests on behalf of working Americans. 
“When you hustle money like that, you don’t sit in restaurants like this,” Mr. Sanders said during an interview in a small Italian bistro on Capitol Hill. “You’re sitting in restaurants where you’re spending — I don’t know what they spend, hundreds of dollars for dinner.” 
He added: “That’s the world that you’re accustomed to, and that’s the worldview that you adopt. You’re not worrying about a kid three blocks away from here whose mom can’t afford to feed him.” 
Mr. Sanders spoke on the eve of the first big rally for his 2016 presidential bid, in Burlington, Vt. One question looming over his effort is how aggressively he will draw contrasts with Mrs. Clinton, his former Senate colleague. The Vermont independent concedes that Mrs. Clinton is heavily favored. 
Mr. Sanders advocates a “revolution” to reverse a “massive transfer of wealth” from the middle class to the affluent over the last generation. 
He exuded contempt for the “sick” and “disgusting” views of some titans of business who have likened such efforts to Hitler and his persecution of Jews. 
“These people are so greedy, they’re so out of touch with reality,” Mr. Sanders said. “You know what? Sorry, you’re all going to have to pay your fair share of taxes.” 
He doesn’t flinch over returning to the 90 percent personal income tax rates of the 1950s for top earners. And if reducing income inequality reduces economic growth, he says, that’s fine. “You don’t necessarily need a choice of 23 underarm spray deodorants,” he said, “when children are hungry in this country.”

Monday, May 25, 2015

All-New Captain America Special #1

Why do I continue to read comic books? This is a question I have been asking myself lately. Issues stack up and fill my studio. I start to feel pressure to dig in and catch up, which pulls me away from more important reading.

At the beginning of the year I glanced at a story about Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's New Year's resolution to read two books per month (actually one book every other week). This, coupled with a general sense that settled in once I hit 50 last year that unless I get busy I'll never even make a dent in the piles of books stacked and packed into my small apartment, motivated me to emulate the social networking guru.

Since my book reading had tailed off the last couple of years, it came as a bit of a surprise to find how much effort it takes to read two books a month (if you work full-time and read the newspaper everyday), particularly if you choose a book over 400 pages with lots of end notes. The fact that football season is over helps. And so far I have been able to read two books a month; sometimes even three. But keeping up with the comic books has suffered.

Running in the gigantic annual Bay to Breakers race recently I was struck by how many women and men dressed up as superheroes. I couldn't pick out any religious-themed costumed runners, but there were plenty of Spider-Men, Wonder Women, Batmen, Robins, Captain Americas and Supermen. Charles Blow recently wrote an opinion piece, "Unaffiliated and Underrepresented," about the political over-representation of Christianity (though he didn't say it, based on the Pew report he presented, he could have also included Judaism) vis-a-vis the unaffiliated, meaning those who do not subscribe to any organized religion:
But the report also found, “Over the same period, the percentage of Americans who are religiously unaffiliated — describing themselves as atheist, agnostic or ‘nothing in particular’ — has jumped more than six points, from 16.1 percent to 22.8 percent.” Much of the change comes from younger people. According to the report, “About a third of older millennials (adults currently in their late 20s and early 30s) now say they have no religion, up nine percentage points among this cohort since 2007, when the same group was between ages 18 and 26.”
I would like to proffer that the religion of these unaffiliated  millennials is by and large to be found
in the superhero comic book. Millennials love comic books, and they love digital technology. During the Bay to Breakers a common occurrence was having to dodge runners stopped dead in the middle of the course snapping selfies.

So reading comic books is meritorious solely on the basis of their importance to the generation that will soon have to manage the collapsing Western neoliberal paradigm. Whether economic, environmental or political, a huge shock is coming; and it is a safe bet that it is going to play out at a time when the millennials will be in charge, in the next 20 to 30 years.

And while the comic books produced by the corporate behemoths Marvel and DC are not overtly political, they are not bland endorsements of the status quo. In some cases, like the titles written by Rick Remender, they are for the most part subversive of the existing order.

The three-issue special Inhuman Error is a fine example of why I continue to read comic books. Spread out over The Amazing Spider-Man Special #1, Inhuman Special #1, All-New Captain American Special #1, Inhuman Error tells the story of Red Raven and his flying island of Bird People, a band of Inhumans who have been adversely affected by Black Bolt's detonation of the Terrigen Bomb.

Jeff Loveness' script is not particularly outstanding, but the artwork of Ryan Lee (Inhuman Special #1) and Alec Morgan (All-New Captain America Special #1) is; as are the colors of Nolan Woodard.

Below are five scans from All-New Captain America Special #1. Sam Wilson, a.k.a., All-New Captain America, battles Red Raven first in his floating island sanctuary and then in the skies above Manhattan. The art is Alec Morgan's. I bet he spent some time at St. John the Divine (first scan).

Friday, May 22, 2015

Hippies vs. Punks: Bobby Hutcherson's San Francisco

For the last month I've been listening to a lot of Bobby Hutcherson; mostly the recordings from his hard bop/post-bop heyday, albums like Dialogue (1965), Oblique (1967) and Head On (1971). These are complex records. But I don't think I am drawn to them because of an appetite for complexity. I think I have been immersing myself in Hutcherson because he is a virtuoso of the vibraphone.

The vibraphone is considered a percussion instrument. It is a xylophone equipped with resonator tubes which create a warm vibrato. It hums and hovers and blankets. And for some reason I need a lot of blanketing lately.

I am at the endpoint with my job: the toxic emotional environment of the secretarial bullpen, the ever-increasing workload, the three-hour daily commute. It has been this way for a while. Like a frog sitting in a pan of water placed on a lit burner, one tends to stay put until it is too late.

For the last year I have been planning to run the Bay to Breakers with my father. The spring of 1976, when I was in the sixth grade, my father, a friend of his named Jim Hall and I were on our way up to San Francisco to run the race when the engine to the family auto blew. The car was a Chevy Vega, infamous for its easily cracked aluminum engine block. We never made it to the race.

Nineteen-seventy-six, as I have explored in a previous Hippies vs. Punks post, is when my nuclear family fractured. The events -- the failure to run the Bay to Breakers, the disintegration of my parents' marriage -- are only incidentally connected, part of the same temporal womb. My idea, as proposed to my father, was that we should "journey back to past" and remedy our failure. So this past weekend we ran the Bay to Breakers.

In preparation for my trip down to the Bay Area, since I was listening to a lot of Bobby Hutcherson anyway, I decide to download his brilliant but modest flirtation with fusion, San Francisco.

Recorded in the all-important year of 1970, and released in 1971, San Francisco's success is its light touch. Two tracks that have the strongest rock/rhythm-&-blues elements are the lead cut "Goin' South" and "Ummh."

"Ummh" was so successful it earned Hutcherson enough money to buy an acre of land in San Mateo County upon which he erected his homestead where he lives to this day. "Ummh" has that urban corner bar "people are just people" populist fusion vibe that was ever-present in the early- to mid-1970s. (Think the theme song to Barney Miller.)

But my favorite cuts on San Francisco are "Prints Tie" and "Procession."

San Francisco is a beautiful city. The Bay to Breakers is an incredible race. You have the world-class athletes leading the way followed by a circus -- serious runners, weekend runners, joggers, shufflers, drunks and party people, nudists, walkers. The long march up Hayes Hill is a combination Mardi Gras and road race. People were dancing in the streets, amplifiers piled on the sidewalk blasting early hip-hop and house music.

Anyhow, I hit a wall at mile five and had to muscle my way through the rest of the course, which was through Golden Gate Park, before crossing the finish line with the waves of the Pacific breaking on a beach within eye-shot. Mission accomplished. Journey to the past completed.

But the past wasn't really present, and neither was the future. Really only the present was present, and that imperfectly so. Which in the end is our human condition.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Big Push to Take Out Syrian Government in the Next 30 Days

The pattern that appears to be developing, with high-profile military victories by Islamic State in Ramadi and Palmyra, is an effort to establish "facts on the ground" by the jihadi proxies of the Saudi-led Gulf Cooperation Council prior to the June 30 deadline on the P5+1 negotiations with Iran on its nuclear program. Because after that date we will be residing in a new world. Either there will be a international agreement normalizing relations with the Shiite power or the talks will founder and the sanctions assiduously cobbled together by the U.S. over many years will disintegrate. So the Saudis and the other sheikhdoms are positioning themselves for the inevitable, and the United States is a willing accomplice.

For instance, check out Moon of Alabama's recent post, "Obama Administration Dilly-dallying On Islamic State Action":
The Islamic State took Ramadi with the help of armored bulldozers and some 10 suicide vehicles. That many of the nominal defenders of the city had no real will to fight also helped. But there is another important actor that allowed it to happen. In the critical 24 hours the U.S. coalition which had promised to defend Iraq and to defeat the Islamic State launched just seven air strikes and all only against minor IS targets around the city. That's like nothing. 
Now the paltry "dog ate my homework" excuse is a sandstorm no one but the U.S. air support group noticed. 
Yesterday the Islamic State held victory parades around Ramadi. A hundred vehicles with black flags parading on a wide open road with black flags on every streetlight pole.
The pictures show a bright and sunny blue sky. No U.S. air interdiction was seen. Remarks one knowledgeable tweep looking at those pictures: "The Islamic State in Ramādī yesterday. Quite amazing the coalition didn't take them out actually. Makes one wonder about the coalitions rules of engagement. Now it "looks" as if Ramādī was offered to them on a silver plate ... "
One wonders why the U.S., which has control of the skies, allows these long columns of jihadi fighters to proceed unmolested. A version of the same thing can be said about the air power of the Syrian military. If Assad is so ruthless as to regularly use barrel bombs of chlorine gas, as is often depicted in the Western media, how is it that Islamic State fighters can steadily advance on a desert city like Palmyra?

Anne Barnard reports this morning in "ISIS Strengthens Its Grip on Ancient Syrian City of Palmyra":
BEIRUT, Lebanon — Islamic State militants on Thursday solidified their rout of Syrian government forces in the historic desert city of Palmyra, moving to the outskirts to seize its airport and the notorious Tadmur Prison, according to residents and statements from the group. 
It was the first time that the ISIS militants seized an entire city from Syrian government forces; it won control of its first major city, Raqqa, from Syrian insurgents and the Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front after the two became rivals. 
The rout on Wednesday in Palmyra, whose spectacular ancient ruins are a symbol of the country’s heritage embraced by Mr. Assad’s supporters and opponents alike, came just five days after the militants seized the much larger city of Ramadi in Iraq.
The Islamic State group, also known as ISIS or ISIL, declared on Thursday that it was in control of the town after soldiers “ran away” and “left behind hundreds of dead and injured,” according to a statement released through ISIS social media channels.
Antigovernment activists who also oppose the Islamic State circulated grisly images of dead and decapitated bodies of young men lying on what looked like a street in the center of Palmyra, saying they were members of the Shueitat tribe, hundreds of whom were massacred last year for resisting the group. 
The defeat is likely to increase pressure on President Bashar al-Assad, whose forces have suffered setbacks in the northern province of Idlib in recent months and have increasingly struggled to fill their ranks after four years of war against an insurgency that began with political protest and morphed into a war with several fronts.
It seems that the Syrian government relinquished Palmyra without a pitched battle:
There were no updates from the government on the situation in Palmyra. State television had broadcast patriotic music and nature scenes the night before as residents reported that soldiers and pro-government militiamen were fleeing the town, leaving many civilians unable to evacuate
State media, by contrast, reported that “popular defense groups” had withdrawn “after securing the evacuation of most of the families.”
Palmyra gives ISIS control of a large prison, Tadmur, from which it can recruit or dragoon fighters, and there are gas fields near the city, as well as the antiquities to plunder and destroy for sensational publicity. But where the Syrian government is vulnerable is in Idlib where the Nusra-led (and Turkish- and Saudi-backed) Islamic coalition continues its advance. As Barnard outlined in a report on Tuesday, "Insurgents Continue Advance in Syria, Keeping Pressure on Government Forces," the jihadi goal here is control of the remaining piece of government turf in Idlib that acts as a gateway to the coastal pro-Assad Alawite region of Syria:
The advance was carried out by the same coalition of Islamist groups, including the Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front, that seized the provincial capital, the city of Idlib. Other, more nationalist rebel groups, including some that have received weapons through a covert American program, also took part.

The rebel forces moved one village deeper into the remaining finger of territory that the government controls, a strip south of the city that links to the government’s coastal strongholds. 
Insurgents swept into the village of Mastoumeh and a military camp there in a two-day offensive this week, according to antigovernment activists and videos that showed fighters celebrating amid burning military vehicles. 
Syrian pro-government television channels appeared to acknowledge the advance, reporting that the air force was bombing areas in Mastoumeh that had fallen to rebels and that military units from there had retreated to the town of Ariha farther south.
The shrinking contested strip also divides the battles in Idlib from the coastal provinces, whose population has been swollen to more than double their prewar size by people displaced from other parts of Syria. There are fears that insurgents could take revenge on loyalists there. 
The coastal provinces have the country’s greatest concentration of Alawites, the sect to which Mr. Assad belongs and that contributes disproportionately to the military. And some fear that in the bloody struggle between government forces and a mostly Sunni insurgency, they will face retribution as a group. Some factions, like Nusra, have openly called for revenge on Alawites. 
Antigovernment activists have reported stepped-up bombing campaigns over towns and villages in Idlib Province, in the northeast corner of the country, as they are taken by insurgents.
This all has the look of an orchestrated campaign. The bogeymen of ISIS used as a cat's-paw to distract and elicit cosmetic airstrikes from the military behemoth, while the real work is carried out by the Islamic coalition funded by Turkey, the GCC and armed by the U.S. At this point it's a safe bet that the CIA is broadly coordinating the activity from its nerve center in southern Turkey. I mean, come on. What else is it doing there, caring for refugees?

Over the next month we need to pay attention to the Assad strongholds along the Mediterranean. If the Syrian Arab Army cannot protect this territory, the government's days are truly numbered. The Saudi-backed proxies are going to make a big push in the next 30 days to knock out Assad. In the meantime, expect the U.S. to maintain its confusing, contradictory dilly-dallying.

Proof that the P5+1 negotiations are on rocky ground comes in today's story by Thomas Erdbrink and David Sanger, "Iran’s Supreme Leader Rules Out Broad Nuclear Inspections." Ayatollah Khamenei has categorically denied that Iran will capitulate to "anytime, anywhere" inspections demanded by the U.S.:
TEHRAN — Iran’s supreme leader on Wednesday ruled out allowing international inspectors to interview Iranian nuclear scientists as part of any potential deal on its nuclear program, and reiterated that the country would not allow the inspection of military sites.
In a graduation speech at the Imam Hussein Military University in Tehran, the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, widely believed to have the final say on whether Iran accepts a deal if one is reached next month, denounced what he said were escalating demands by the United States and five other world powers as they accelerate the pace of the negotiations with Iran. 
“They say new things in the negotiations,” Ayatollah Khamenei told the military graduates. “Regarding inspections, we have said that we will not let foreigners inspect any military center.” 
Like last summer, when he vowed that Iran would ultimately build an industrial-scale uranium enrichment capability — with 190,000 centrifuges, or 10 times the number now installed — the ayatollah’s comments are bound to cause deep complications for Iran’s negotiators, led by Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. 
Skeptics about the preliminary deals described by Secretary of State John Kerry have focused on the absence of “anywhere, anytime” inspections and a lack of clarity about whether and when Tehran would have to answer 12 outstanding questions from the International Atomic Energy Agency about what the inspectors call “possible military dimensions” of the program. 
Central to that is the ability to interview nuclear scientists, starting with Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the man considered by Western intelligence officials to be the closest thing Iran has to J. Robert Oppenheimer, who guided the Manhattan Project to develop the world’s first nuclear weapon. The scientists and engineers Mr. Fakhrizadeh has assembled over the past 15 years are best suited to explain, or rebut, documents suggesting that Iran has extensively researched warheads, nuclear ignition systems and related technologies. Mr. Fakhrizadeh has never been made available to inspectors for interviews, and his network of laboratories, some on university campuses, have not been part of inspections.
In April, Mr. Kerry told Judy Woodruff on “PBS NewsHour” that Iran could not avoid answering the questions about its past actions. “They have to do it. It will be done,” he said. “If there’s going to be a deal, it will be done. 
But it is not clear how that would be enforced, and it seems likely that oil and financial sanctions would be lifted early in the process, before the explanations to inspectors could be finished. 
After the last round of talks ended on Friday in Vienna, a barrage of complaints erupted in the Iranian state news media over reported demands by the United States for broad mandates for nuclear inspectors working for the United Nations nuclear watchdog.
The comments by Ayatollah Khamenei seemed to cement the Iranian position that requiring inspections of sites not designated by the country as part of its nuclear energy program is a nonstarter. While not new, the statement could make it harder for Mr. Zarif to seal a comprehensive deal before the self-imposed June 30 deadline.
Interviews with nuclear scientists have long been a contentious issue with Iran. Five scientists were killed in separate attacks from 2010 to 2012, attacks that the United States and other countries believe were initiated by Israeli intelligence. Iran has accused the International Atomic Energy Agency of leaking personal information about the scientists to Israel. Israel has never commented on the accusations. 
“They say the right to interview nuclear scientists must be given,” Ayatollah Khamenei said, according to his website. “This means interrogation. I will not let foreigners come and talk to scientists and dear children of the nation who have developed this science up to this level.”
We know from Scott Ritter's experience as a weapons inspector in Iraq that there is substance to Iranian claims. Inspectors feed information to foreign intelligence services who then use it for a variety purposes, such as "public diplomacy," a.k.a. information warfare.

This bold red line by Khamenei is one that is going to be very difficult to erase. If the Obama administration relents on inspections, it will be difficult to win approval for any P5+1 agreement in Congress. The next month should be a momentous one.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Los Angeles $15/Hr. Minimum Wage Huge Win

Leadership of mainstream political parties, zombies of a bankrupt and corrupt neoliberal consensus, got a jolt yesterday as the megalopolis of Los Angeles adopted a $15/hr. minimum wage. Jennifer Medina and Noam Scheiber have the story, "Los Angeles Lifts Its Minimum Wage to $15 Per Hour":
LOS ANGELES — The nation’s second-largest city voted Tuesday to increase its minimum wage from $9 an hour to $15 an hour by 2020, in what is perhaps the most significant victory so far for labor groups and their allies who are engaged in a national push to raise the minimum wage.
The increase, which the City Council passed in a 14-to-1 vote, comes as workers across the country are rallying for higher wages and several large companies, including Facebook and Walmart, have moved to raise their lowest wages. Several other cities, including San Francisco, Chicago, Seattle and Oakland, Calif., have already approved increases, and dozens more are considering doing the same. In 2014, a number of Republican-leaning states like Alaska and South Dakota also raised their state-level minimum wages by ballot initiative.
The effect is likely to be particularly strong in Los Angeles, where, according to some estimates, almost 50 percent of the city’s work force earns less than $15 an hour. Under the plan approved Tuesday, the minimum wage will rise over five years.
“The effects here will be the biggest by far,” said Michael Reich, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, who was commissioned by city leaders to conduct several studies on the potential effects of a minimum-wage increase. “The proposal will bring wages up in a way we haven’t seen since the 1960s. There’s a sense spreading that this is the new norm, especially in areas that have high costs of housing.” 
The groups pressing for higher minimum wages said that the Los Angeles vote could set off a wave of increases across Southern California, and that higher pay scales would improve the way of life for the region’s vast low-wage work force. 
Supporters of higher wages say they hope the move will reverberate nationally. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York announced this month that he was convening a state board to consider a wage increase in the local fast-food industry, which could be enacted without a vote in the State Legislature. Immediately after the Los Angeles vote, pressure began to build on Mr. Cuomo to reject an increase that falls short of $15 an hour.
Opponents of the $15/hr. minimum wage hide behind small business owners, arguing that it will force them to close their doors. This is a red herring akin to trotting out the family farm when it comes time to call for a repeal of the estate tax or similar to USG claims that Shiite militias have to be sidelined in order to prevent the spread of sectarianism as Islamic State rampages.

If you have been to any urban core lately, you will have noticed, as I did recently on a trip to the Bay Area, that there are very few independent, small business retailers left standing. The overwhelming number of the storefronts I saw were corporate chains. The Bay Area I grew up in always had a large number of vibrant, independent small businesses, part of the legacy of being a Hippie Mecca. No longer.

As the Medina and Scheiber story makes plain, neoliberal Democrats like Andrew Cuomo are now on the hot seat. It is "shit or get off the pot" time for captive politicians. This minimum-wage wave is robust in red states too, as victories in Alaska and South Dakota during the GOP landslide of the 2014 midterms prove.

Over the weekend I finished Tariq Ali's The Extreme Centre: A Warning (2015). Ali takes us on a tour of Western democracies, focusing principally on the UK, since the collapse of communism in the late 1980s/early 1990s. The mainstream parties have morphed into de facto permanent neoliberal government cannibalizing the remnants of the post-WWII social order.

I mentioned in a post last month that Ali thinks that there is plenty of juice left in U.S. global hegemony. All talk of a "decline of the U.S.-led West" is wishful thinking. The one wild card Ali does hold out is popular reaction. As the mainstreams parties have cohered into an extreme center, they have become almost totally divorced from the 99% they nominally represent. This creates an opportunity for new parties to form, at least in parliamentary systems where party formation isn't impossible. So you have Syriza, which has been locked in a death struggle with enforcers of neoliberal austerity, the troika, since it came out on top in Greece's January elections. And you have Podemos in Spain, which will get a chance this Sunday in municipal and regional elections.

In the U.S., the only game in town is $15 Now. Well, that's not true. There's the #Black Lives Matter movement, which has, in less than a year, re-framed centuries of policing and racial stereotypes. Whites are moving toward minority status in the U.S. Obama, in Camden, NJ on Monday, announced that he was curtailing the Pentagon pipeline of surplus hardware to local police.

The LA $15 minimum wage and the shift underway in racial perceptions are huge gains and bode ill for business-as-usual neoliberalism. A mainstream party will win the election next year, but the ground is shifting. Change is coming.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Victory in Ramadi Bad News for ISIS and U.S. Now Genie of Popular Mobilization Forces Can't be Corked

Sitting in the airport yesterday waiting to catch a flight home, I watched a CNN interview with retired Delta Force Commander James Reese. He seemed to relish the fact that Iraqi prime minister Abadi was calling the Popular Mobilization Forces, the Shiite militias, back to Anbar Province to attempt to reclaim Ramadi. Strange since it was pressure from the U.S. that prevented the Popular Mobilization Forces from deploying in Anbar following their defeat of Islamic State in Tikrit. Abadi pulled back the Shiite militias in favor of the U.S. policy of trying to recreate the Sons of Iraq, the Sunni Awakening in Anbar. All this went unmentioned in the interview with the Delta Force analyst.

Not so in the stories filed by the Gray Lady's Tim Arango. In yesterday's "Key Iraqi City Falls to ISIS as Last of Security Forces Flee" and today's "Fall of Ramadi to ISIS Weakens Rule of Iraqi Premier," Arango clearly outlines the U.S. role in Abadi's decision both to rein in the Popular Mobilization Forces and now to unleash them. From yesterday's report Arango notes:
With defeat looming in Ramadi on Sunday afternoon, the Anbar Provincial Council met in Baghdad and voted to ask Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to send Shiite fighters to rescue Anbar, a largely Sunni province. In response, Mr. Abadi issued a statement calling for the militias, known as the Popular Mobilization Forces and including several powerful Shiite forces supported by Iran, to be ready to fight. Some of the Shiite irregular units, which were formed last summer after Shiite clerics put out a call to arms, are more firmly under the command of the government, while others answer to Iran.
The involvement of the militias in Anbar had been opposed by the United States, which leads an international coalition that has been carrying out airstrikes in support of Iraqi forces. American officials had worried that the militias could inflame sectarian tensions in the province and ultimately make it harder to pacify.
As they considered asking for the militias’ assistance, Anbar officials met over the weekend with the American ambassador to Iraq, Stuart E. Jones, to ascertain the United States’ position on the issue. According to officials, Mr. Jones told the Anbar delegation that the United States would continue its air campaign, provided that the militias were under the command of Mr. Abadi, and not Iranian advisers, and that the militias were properly organized to avoid American bombing runs.
The U.S. position in Iraq is thoroughly schizophrenic. The enemy is the super-sectarian ISIS. Yet the main reason for keeping the Shiite militias on a leash, choosing instead to let the woeful Iraqi Army lead the fight in Anbar, is to prevent sectarianism. In the meantime, Islamic State gains ground, captures new weapons recently supplied by both the U.S. and Russia, and spreads its ruthless sectarianism. Then the U.S. green-lights the Popular Mobilization Forces, cheering on the Shiite militias to take back what U.S. policy lost. It is as if the true American goal is make sure that no clear victory is achieved but that war rages on.

The limit to this U.S. schizophrenia or ruse is that it relies on Abadi to implement it -- to tether the militias at the same time maintaining the fiction that the Awakening can be reanimated. But, as Arango makes clear in his story today, Abadi is losing credibility rapidly. Iraqis overwhelmingly support the Popular Mobilization Forces, and Abadi's efforts to sideline them is increasingly perceived as an abject capitulation to foreign-backed designs to partition the country:
Some of the newer units, formed last year after Shiite clerics called on young men to take up arms and fight the Islamic State, also called ISIS or ISIL, do answer to the prime minister. Some of the most powerful groups, though, such as the Badr Organization, Asaib Ahl al-Haq and Kataib Hezbollah, may answer to Mr. Abadi in individual cases — they did not advance on Anbar until the prime minister gave orders, for example. But those militias were trained and supported directly by Iran, and the militias’ leaders have grown immensely in popularity with the Iraqi public as they have won significant battles against the Islamic State.
This has presented serious challenges to Mr. Abadi’s authority. For instance, in March, at the beginning of an operation to retake the city of Tikrit, north of Baghdad, the plans were drawn up by militia leaders, and then Mr. Abadi was told it would happen. Once those fighters failed to retake Tikrit decisively, Mr. Abadi asked them to withdraw and called for help from American airstrikes, reasserting his authority for the moment.
Now that the militias have been called upon to fight in Anbar, Mr. Abadi’s authority seems to be waning again, and the militias’ cachet has only grown. One of the most popular pictures circulating on social media in Iraq on Monday showed Hadi al-Ameri, the powerful head of the Badr militia, examining a map and seemingly plotting out a new campaign in Anbar.
Fanar Haddad, an Iraqi analyst, recently wrote in an online column that the militias have “provided a potent rallying point for a reinvigorated sense of Iraqi nationalism, albeit one with distinctly Shiite overtones.” 
In an interview, Mr. Haddad said Mr. Abadi was limited in his ability to constrain the Popular Mobilization Forces — or Hashid in Arabic, as the militias are known here. “If you want to be part of Iraq’s evolving political game, you can’t go against the Hashid,” he said. “It’s just too popular.” 
The militias’ growing popularity has coincided with an even more powerful approval of Iran’s role in Iraq, at least among Shiite Iraqis. 
Once, even many Iraqi Shiites looked at Iran with some suspicion, partly because of the legacy of the long and bloody war that Iraq fought with Iran in the 1980s. A frequent gripe of the past was about low-quality Iranian goods, such as cheese and yogurt, clogging the shelves of grocery stories. 
Now, though, in the words of Ali Kareem Salman, a 31-year-old government worker in the south, “Shiites think that Iran is the protector of the Shiite sect.”
Hanan Fatlawi, a Shiite lawmaker who is one of Mr. Abadi’s most vocal critics, said: “Previously, you could divide the Shia into two sides: those who hate Iran and those who love them. But after the entrance of ISIS, and with the situation we are in, many people are grateful to Iran. Their opinion changed." 
Of the militias, she said, “Without them, there would be no Baghdad.” 
There is an essential paradox to Mr. Abadi’s leadership thus far. In nearly every way he has proved to be the inclusive leader mandated by the United States, reaching out to Sunnis and Kurds and seeking consensus. But within Iraq, he is increasingly viewed as weak and unable to effectively shift Iraq’s tragic trajectory. 
“This term ‘inclusive personality,’ I only hear from foreigners,” Ms. Fatlawi said. “He was weak from the start.”
All of which powerfully underlines the deep flaw in the U.S. strategy. The U.S. got the man it wanted to replace Maliki. But if Abadi keeps toeing the U.S. line, his days are numbered. Iraqis know that without the militias there would be no Baghdad. And if Abadi goes, Washington will be confronted with having to abandon the battlefield with Islamic State, leaving it to Iran to help defend Iraq, or having to suck it up and attempt to bribe or cajole Abadi's replacement. Either option argues for a greater role for the Popular Mobilization Forces, which means more losses for ISIS and more victories for a renascent, popular Shiite-based Iraqi nationalism -- something that the U.S. and its allies in Israel and the Gulf monarchies cannot countenance.

So the U.S. will stick with Abadi and make sure he grants the concessions necessary to remain in power; and from this perch atop the Iraqi state, the U.S. will try to dampen the flowering of Iraqi nationalism. But the one thing that the U.S. has done reliably since it toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003 -- not intentionally but as a result of the blowback from its bellicosity -- is to amplify Shiite credibility and power in the region. This is not something that is going to change.