Tuesday, June 30, 2015

P5+1 Deadline + IMF Loan to Greece Comes Due + The New Left Has Won the Culture War, David Brooks Says So

There is a lot of news to consider this morning. For one, the P5+1 talks in Vienna arrive at their deadline today. They will be extended. A punch list of sticking points was published yesterday by eminent pro-USG scribes David Sanger and Michael Gordon, "Crucial Questions Remain as Iran Nuclear Talks Approach Deadline," that makes it seem like very long odds an agreement will be reached. I think the technical aspects of "breakout" capacity can be fudged. Obama and Kerry are not going to kill the deal over that. And I think Khamenei will be flexible about the timeline for the sanctions being lifted. But I do think the issues of inspections of Iranian military sites and access to Iranian scientists are going to be difficult to paper over. This is the neocon/Israeli ace in the hole. Inspectors for the International Atomic Energy Agency are spies in the employ of sundry intelligence services. They feed information to hostile foreign governments who then use that information to sabotage and murder. If Khamenei were to accede to unfettered, intrusive "anytime, anywhere" inspections, Iran would be effectively a subject nation. So Khamenei will not agree to this. The question is whether some form of compromise on this issue can be hatched that Obama can sell to Congress. I am doubtful.

The newspaper is rife with reporting on Greece, more stories than at any time since Syriza won last January's election. Greece owes 1.6 billion euros to the IMF by the end of the day. Varoufakis says Greece is not going to make the payment. But talks are underway again. Officials for the institutions are talking a little nicer since Sunday and the implementation of capital controls on Greek banks by prime minister Tsipras.

I think the change in attitude is the realization by some in EU officialdom that the Greeks could very well vote No on Sunday. The vote will surely be close. But what a No vote has in its favor is that a Yes vote is a vote in favor of the status quo, something that Greeks know and have lived for the last several years -- interminable stressful negotiations with imperious creditors who are forever asking for more givebacks -- whereas a No vote, while potentially dire and catastrophic, has not been colored in. A No vote appears open; there is still some hope there.

David Brooks is odious. He exists professionally to rationalize the obscene inequality that is produced by neoliberalism. His recent column, "Fracking and the Franciscans," devoted to criticism of Pope Francis' encyclical on climate change was so tendentious it proved to me that Brooks, for all his facility quoting academic scholarship and his apparently earnest talk of faith, is at the end of the day nothing more than a hack for hire.

Ever since Obama rose to the top based on what is clearly a progressive majority in the United States, at the same time the Republicans have staked out a dominant position in the Congress based on a know-nothing, white supremacist ideology, Brooks has been hard pressed to gussy up contemporary electoral conservatism.

Race hatred, sexism, religious fundamentalism -- these are the pillars of popular conservatism -- and they are falling away. Marriage equality, Black Lives Matter, marijuana legalization, the collapse of religious affiliation all point to a tolerant, progressive, rational society, one first limned by the New Left in the 1960s.

To his credit, Brooks supports tearing Old Dixie down and driving a stake in the heart of cracker America ("The Robert E. Lee Problem"), the America that is synonymous with the modern GOP since Nixon's Southern Strategy.

Now, in the wake of last week's Supreme Court decision recognizing Gay marriage, Brooks ("The Next Culture War") flies the white flag of surrender, calling for the Religious Right to end its culture war:
These conservatives are enmeshed in a decades-long culture war that has been fought over issues arising from the sexual revolution. Most of the conservative commentators I’ve read over the past few days are resolved to keep fighting that war. 
I am to the left of the people I have been describing on almost all of these social issues. But I hope they regard me as a friend and admirer. And from that vantage point, I would just ask them to consider a change in course. 
Consider putting aside, in the current climate, the culture war oriented around the sexual revolution.
Put aside a culture war that has alienated large parts of three generations from any consideration of religion or belief. Put aside an effort that has been a communications disaster, reducing a rich, complex and beautiful faith into a public obsession with sex. Put aside a culture war that, at least over the near term, you are destined to lose. 
The New Left, for the time being, has won the culture war. But war is actually spreading and so too is inequality. The low-hanging fruit has been plucked. Now comes the hard part.

Monday, June 29, 2015

The Present Age: Freak Out of the 1%

It quickly got dark Sunday morning after the day dawned with bright sunshine.

Saturday evening as I reclined on my mattress on the floor reading Ed SandersThe Family: The Story of Charles Manson's Dune Buggy Attack Battalion, the chapter where Tex Watson and Charlie's girls -- Linda Kasabian, Patricia Krenwinkel and Susan Atkins -- butcher the occupants of the Polanski household on 10050 Cielo Drive in Los Angeles' Benedict Canyon the early morning of August 9, 1969, sounds of Seattle's Capitol Hill Pride celebration wafted through my open windows.

The theme to this year's Pride was "Stonewall, Never Forget." The sounds were of Steppenwolf; a guy who sounded like John Kay led a band through all Steppenwolf's big hits, including the ones that appeared in Easy Rider (1969), "The Pusher" and "Born To Be Wild." Suddenly the past wasn't gone. I was in the present but 46-years back in 1969 with the Manson Family, Stonewall and Steppenwolf. Very strange.

The present world we live in is indeed very strange. Unlike the world of 1969, there is no drug-fueled freak out and rebellion of the masses, no massification of bohemia, no disruptive culture of protest. Instead, what we have is a "freak out" by those in power as they try to maintain their domination.

The efflorescence of takfiri jihadis, seemingly spontaneous, has more to do with the constituent countries of the GCC trying to beat back the spirit of the Arab Spring. When all is said and done, the rise of ISIS is the direct result of actions by states such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and, yes, the United States. and the pathological desire to see an ally of Iran, Syria, toppled.

The blowback to this policy freak out is already being felt in Europe, as the European Union finds itself in stasis on how to deal with the refugees flocking to its shores from wars in Africa and the Middle East.

But no better example of the addledness of the current leadership is the attitude of the eurozone powers towards Greece. Paul Krugman has a tremendous column this morning, "Greece Over the Brink," in which he provides a pithy, succinct synopsis of the Greek debt crisis. Krugman properly places all the post-2010 blame on the troika:
Greece should vote “no,” and the Greek government should be ready, if necessary, to leave the euro. 
To understand why I say this, you need to realize that most — not all, but most — of what you’ve heard about Greek profligacy and irresponsibility is false. Yes, the Greek government was spending beyond its means in the late 2000s. But since then it has repeatedly slashed spending and raised taxes. Government employment has fallen more than 25 percent, and pensions (which were indeed much too generous) have been cut sharply. If you add up all the austerity measures, they have been more than enough to eliminate the original deficit and turn it into a large surplus. 
So why didn’t this happen? Because the Greek economy collapsed, largely as a result of those very austerity measures, dragging revenues down with it.
Krugman thinks Greece, by declaring a bank holiday and instituting capital controls, has already taken the most difficult step. He worries that a Yes vote will destroy the Syriza-led government and maintain the pestilential fiction of troika-dictated austerity. Interestingly, Krugman sees the current impasse as most radical leftists do -- a political attempt to destroy the not-sufficiently-neoliberal Syriza of Alexis Tsipras and Yanis Varoufakis:
So have I just made the case for “Grexit” — Greek exit from the euro? Not necessarily. The problem with Grexit has always been the risk of financial chaos, of a banking system disrupted by panicked withdrawals and of business hobbled both by banking troubles and by uncertainty over the legal status of debts. That’s why successive Greek governments have acceded to austerity demands, and why even Syriza, the ruling leftist coalition, was willing to accept the austerity that has already been imposed. All it asked for was, in effect, a standstill on further austerity.
But the troika was having none of it. It’s easy to get lost in the details, but the essential point now is that Greece has been presented with a take-it-or-leave-it offer that is effectively indistinguishable from the policies of the past five years. 
This is, and presumably was intended to be, an offer Alexis Tsipras, the Greek prime minister, can’t accept, because it would destroy his political reason for being. The purpose must therefore be to drive him from office, which will probably happen if Greek voters fear confrontation with the troika enough to vote yes next week. 
But they shouldn’t, for three reasons. First, we now know that ever-harsher austerity is a dead end: after five years Greece is in worse shape than ever. Second, much and perhaps most of the feared chaos from Grexit has already happened. With banks closed and capital controls imposed, there’s not that much more damage to be done. 
Finally, acceding to the troika’s ultimatum would represent the final abandonment of any pretense of Greek independence. Don’t be taken in by claims that troika officials are just technocrats explaining to the ignorant Greeks what must be done. These supposed technocrats are in fact fantasists who have disregarded everything we know about macroeconomics, and have been wrong every step of the way. This isn’t about analysis, it’s about power — the power of the creditors to pull the plug on the Greek economy, which persists as long as euro exit is considered unthinkable.
So it’s time to put an end to this unthinkability. Otherwise Greece will face endless austerity, and a depression with no hint of an end.
There is some reason to hope that the battle-hardened Greeks will vote No, even though elections are usually fear-based, lowest-common-denominator exercises. The fact that markets are down this morning but not enormously is another hopeful sign.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Greece Has Already Won

Well, after half a year of negotiations, a time when the positions of the parties seemed to change not at all, we suddenly have quite a bit of movement.

On Friday, Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras called for a public vote on the troika-creditor-institutions' take-it-or-leave it offer, an offer that included pension cuts that Syriza came to power explicitly rejecting.

Yesterday the troika-creditor-institutions rejected a one-week extension on loans coming due in order to allow the Greek government to conduct the referendum on July 5.

This morning the European Central Bank (ECB) announced that it will freeze Emergency Liquidity Assistance (ELA) to the Greek banking system. Given that lines have formed at ATMs since Tsipras' announcement of a referendum on Friday, for the ECB to freeze ELA puts the ball back in Syriza's court. Tsipras will now or very shortly have to impose a bank holiday and then capital controls.

Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis posts this morning on his blog a summation of the breakdown in talks in Brussels, "As it happened – Yanis Varoufakis’ intervention during the 27th June 2015 Eurogroup Meeting," which he prefaces as follows:
The Eurogroup Meeting of 27th June 2015 will not go down as a proud moment in Europe’s history. Ministers turned down the Greek government’s request that the Greek people should be granted a single week during which to deliver a Yes or No answer to the institutions’ proposals – proposals crucial for Greece’s future in the Eurozone. The very idea that a government would consult its people on a problematic proposal put to it by the institutions was treated with incomprehension and often with disdain bordering on contempt. I was even asked: “How do you expect common people to understand such complex issues?”. Indeed, democracy did not have a good day in yesterday’s Eurogroup meeting! But nor did European institutions. After our request was rejected, the Eurogroup President broke with the convention of unanimity (issuing a statement without my consent) and even took the dubious decision to convene a follow up meeting without the Greek minister, ostensibly to discuss the “next steps”. 
Can democracy and a monetary union coexist? Or must one give way? This is the pivotal question that the Eurogroup has decided to answer by placing democracy in the too-hard basket. So far, one hopes.
Varoufakis makes several substantive points. He basically outlines why it is the Greek government wants to hold a referendum: because the troika-creditors-institutions' take-it-or-leave-it offer is an "austerian" proposal that covers a mere five months and therefore guarantees no stability; the Syriza-led government commanded a 40% plurality of the vote last January; hence, the public needs to be consulted. Here is where Varoufakis' statement gets very interesting:
On the question that will be put to the Greek people, much has been said about what it should be. Many of you tell us, advise us, instruct us even, that we should make it a Yes or No question on the euro. Let me be clear on this. First, the question was formulated by the Cabinet and has just been passed through Parliament – and it is “Do you accept the institutions’ proposal as it was presented to us on 25th June in the Eurogroup?” This is the only pertinent question. If we had accepted that proposal two days ago, we would have had a deal. The Greek government is now asking the electorate to answer the question you put it to me Jeroen – especially when you said, and I quote, “you can consider this, if you wish, a take or leave it proposal”. Well, this is how we took it and we are now honouring the institutions and the Greek people by asking the latter to deliver a clear answer on the institutions’ proposal.
To those who say that, effectively, this is a referendum on the euro, my answer is: You may very well say this but I shall not comment. This is your judgement, your opinion, your interpretation. Not ours! There is a logic to your view but only if there is an implicit threat that a No from the Greek people to the institutions’ proposal will be followed up by moves to eject Greece, illegally, out of the euro. Such a threat would not be consistent with basic principles of European democratic governance and European Law.
To those who instruct us to phrase the referendum question as a euro-drachma dilemma, my answer is crystal clear: European Treaties make provisions for an exit from the EU. They do not make any provisions for an exit from the Eurozone. With good reason, of course, as the indivisibility of our Monetary Union is part of its raison d’ etre. To ask us to phrase the referendum question as a choice involving exit from the Eurozone is to ask us to violate EU Treaties and EU Law. I suggest to anyone who wants us, or anyone else, to hold a referendum on EMU membership to recommend a change in the Treaties.
These debt negotiations have always been primarily political and much less about the technicalities of repayment. The IMF itself, the institution that Tsipras has singled out for making unreasonable demands of sacrifice by the Greek people, has acknowledged that austerity has damaged the Greek economy. But neoliberal orthodoxy foresees a low-growth future where the only guaranteed profits to be had are in the further cannibalization of the public sector. Syriza's people first mantra is an existential threat to the neoliberal hive mind.

Since negotiations began this past winter the goal of the parties has been to make the other side throw the first punch and appear as the aggressor. So, given this framing, I think Greece has already won. The troika-creditors-institutions refuse to allow an extra week for a public vote. They have ended negotiations. What are they afraid of?

Clearly the fear is of democracy. As Varoufakis notes above, Syriza would pose the question as a Yes or No on the eurogroup's proposal of June 25th, not on whether to stay in the eurozone. The short run up to the vote next Sunday would not allow for the necessary fearmongering and manipulation to sway the electorate, as the neoliberal orthodoxy was able to do last September in the Scottish referendum on independence. The troika-creditors-institutions saw this and denied the public vote, and have now frozen ELA to force Syriza to implement capital controls, as was done in Cyprus. The hope in the eurogroup is that Syriza will then lose popular support, forcing Tsipras back to the negotiating table humbled.

The troika-creditors-institutions wants Syriza broken and discredited; absent that, they want Greece out of the eurozone. Capital controls are not the end of the world. Cyprus survived. Greece will too.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Hippies vs. Punks: Hüsker Dü's Land Speed Record

Hüsker Dü's Land Speed Record was recorded live the summer of 1981 and originally released by New Alliance Records in January of 1982, about the same time that Sire Records released Tom Tom Club in the United States. In 1987 Mike Watt and Martin Tamburovich sold New Alliance Records to SST Records. Greg Ginn then promptly reissued Land Speed Record on SST. This is when I bought the album.

Nineteen-Eighty-Seven was generally a good year for me, a year I became a proto-burdened bachelor when my girlfriend, whom I would end up marrying a year later, moved out of the apartment in which we had lived together for five years. She would return six months later, but for the summer and fall I had the apartment to myself. 

Excepting the regular presence of buddies, who, like blackbirds swooping down on a morsel that had been dropped on the sidewalk, homed in once the girlfriend had vacated the premises, not to mention a cousin who split his time between Berkeley and Marin County, I felt freer than I had since my freshman year of 1982.

What I remember about Land Speed Record is side two. For some reason I was under the impression that "Data Control" spanned the entire second side of the album instead of the last five-and-a-half minutes. I liked the song. It was distinguishable, had a distinguishable beat, was slower than the rest of the material on the record; plus, it was menacing. After listening to side two I felt as if I had been through a trial by ordeal, made privy to secret information. For that reason, I mostly listened to Land Speed Record by myself in the sunny part of the day from 3 PM to 5 PM when the apartment building was largely abandoned.

By 1987 Hüsker Dü was in the process of falling apart. The band's time on a major label was modestly successful. The Hüskers were pioneers when they jumped the SST ship for Warner Bros. with the release of Candy Apple Grey in early 1986. The big migration of hardcore and No Wave independent label bands wouldn't happen for another couple of years. I had stopped buying Hüsker Dü records after New Day Rising (1985).

Until of course the reissue of Land Speed Record. (Then later during the zenith of Grunge I purchased a cassette of Metal Circus.)

Embarking on a work-week immersion of the album I was a little hesitant about making the commitment. I didn't know if I had the strength to absorb non-stop the sonic hydrochloric acid of early Hüsker Dü hardcore. At first, on Monday, after listening to the record on my iPod, I would intersperse a Nina Simone record or Frank Zappa's Sleep Dirt (1979) before repeating the process. But by Wednesday I was listening to Land Speed over and over on high volume to the point that Thursday morning I woke up with an earache.

I think Christgau gets it right when he says, 
Like a good Eno ambient, this raving nonstop live one provides just enough surface detail--recombinant noise guitar, voices tailing off like skyrockets, slogans such as "data control," "do the bee," and "ultracore"--to function as mood rather than trance music, though admittedly not for the same kind of mood. Guaranteed to assuage the nervous tension of co-op conversion, labor strife, bad orgasm, World War III, and other modern urban annoyances. In other words: aarrghhh! B+
What strikes me this morning is that by 1987 we were already vaguely aware that things had gone wrong, and we were looking backwards to the early '80s and the purity of hardcore.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

With All the Talk of "Putin's Aggression," Why No Mention of King Salman's Aggression?

Sometimes the lie is so big it is best to remain silent. This is the case of late with reporting in the West about the breakaway Donbass region in Ukraine, an area that has been in revolt since the U.S.-backed coup in Kiev sent Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich fleeing to Russia.

The last non-Reuters story filed in the "newspaper of record" that mentioned the rebel People's Republic of Donetsk was last Friday's report by Moscow-based Russophobe Neil MacFarquhar, "Russia and Greece Flaunt Solidarity at Business Forum, but Deals Are Scarce"; in it MacFarquhar notes the disappearance of Ukrainian civil war coverage as well:
“There was an obsession about Ukraine, headlines all the time — Ukraine, Ukraine, Ukraine,” said Charles Robertson, managing director and global chief economist at Renaissance Capital. 
“Now, how many people died in the Donetsk region yesterday? How much shelling was there? Does anyone know?” he asked. “Greece has become the European story, rather than Ukraine and Russia.”
While it is true that interminable Greek debt negotiations are finally coming to a head, with a sudden show of alarm that Merkel might not make any concessions that would prevent a default by Greece and the possible tumultuous Gexident, I think what is going on here is less a crowding out of Ukrainian news and more a premeditated taciturnity. The marauders in Kiev are violating Minsk 2.0, paving the way for a broad resumption of fighting, and there is no way to obscure this other than by spiking coverage.

Whenever NATO starts keening about Russia positioning troops on Ukraine's border, as AP is reporting this morning, that is a strong tell that the Kiev junta is about to strike at DPR/LPR. As Reuters reported yesterday, "Russian Former Leader of Ukraine Rebels Warns of 'Big War' ":
MOSCOW — A ceasefire is likely to collapse in east Ukraine and Russia could be drawn into a "big war" to cleanse the "sore on its borders", the former leader of the region's pro-Russian separatists said. 
Violence has eased but not halted in east Ukraine under what are known as the Minsk 2 agreements, reached in the Belarussian capital on Feb. 12 after an earlier ceasefire collapsed. 
Alexander Borodai, a Russian citizen and former journalist for nationalist newspapers who emerged last year as prime minister of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic (DNR), said he expects the Ukrainian army to launch a new offensive. 
"To be honest, I expect that the Minsk 2 agreements will not be observed, in the same manner as the Minsk 1 agreements were not," Borodai said in an interview this week in a Moscow restaurant surrounded by former rebel commanders. 
"And at the end of the day the Ukrainian army will launch an offensive. This is a very probable development ... I am not sure that it will end without a big war, as Russia cannot tolerate this sore on its borders forever."
There has also been a great deal of silence about the Saudi terror bombing and naval blockade of Yemen, which began in March. But that changed this morning when no less than three substantive stories appeared in today's Gray Lady. In one, the UN mediator assigned to Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, reported to the Security Council yesterday morning that a humanitarian catastrophe is unfolding (Somini Sengupta, "U.N.’s Yemen Mediator Depicts Grim Scene of Deprivation"):
Painting a dire picture to world powers on Wednesday about life in Yemen, a United Nations envoy warned that polio could soon make a comeback and that a dengue outbreak had struck an estimated 3,000 people. 
Clean drinking water is out of reach for 20 million — most of Yemen’s population — and a large portion of country is, in the words of the envoy, “one step away from famine.” 
The envoy, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, the special mediator for resolving the Yemen conflict, spoke to Security Council diplomats in a closed meeting on Wednesday morning. Later in an interview, Mr. Ould Cheikh Ahmed said he was continuing to push for a humanitarian truce during the holy month of Ramadan between the Saudi-led coalition carrying out airstrikes and the Houthi rebels who have ousted the Saudi-backed government.
I assume the sporadic coverage up until now of the Saudi terror campaign directed against Yemen has something to do with the fact that the United States is administering the air war and supporting the naval blockade. What makes this cognitively so difficult to swallow is that it is an almost perfect inversion of the situation in Ukraine. There the U.S. backed Ukrainian fascists and neo-Nazi shock troops, Right Sector, based in the country's west sent the president fleeing for his life to adjoining Russia. In Yemen, the Houthis, based in the country's north, sent president Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi fleeing from the capital Sana to the port city of Aden before absconding by boat to Saudi Arabia. Salman of Saudi Arabia has been bombing and blockading his neighbor ever since.

Imagine if Putin had done the same thing to Ukraine, reducing to rubble the Maidan as Saudi bombs have leveled a UNESCO world heritage site in Sana's Old City. The Western press has adopted a shorthand for the Ukrainian civil war, calling it "Putin's aggression," absent any acknowledgement of the interests or aspirations of Russian-speaking citizens of the Ukraine. Yet there is no equivalent label for what is happening in Yemen. There is no discussion of "Salman's aggression."

It must be kept firmly in mind that not only is this aggression by Saudi Arabia clearly illegal under international law, it is now on the verge of becoming genocidal with widespread famine a likely outcome -- and it is all being facilitated by the United States.

Yes, the mind reels. Goebbels would beam with pride.

But today's frontpage story by Shuaib Almosawa and Ben Hubbard, "Saudi Bombing Only Fans Yemen’s Flames," with an adjoining sidebar by Hanna Ingber, "The Many Miseries of Yemeni Families," is proof that there is at least some sense within the corridors of Great Satan's beltway that the situation in Yemen is spiraling out of control, that the U.S. is complicit in genocide and soon it will not be able to control the narrative of the big lie.

Almosawa and Hubbard don't pull any punches, other than omitting the centrality of the U.S. to the Saudi/GCC military campaign:
SANA, Yemen — For nearly three months, Saudi Arabia, along with its allies, has been bombing Yemen, its southern neighbor, hoping to force the retreat of Shiite rebels who have seized major cities and to return the country’s president from the Saudi guest mansion where he lives to the presidential palace. 
So far, it has not worked. The rebels, known as the Houthis, have gained ground, more than 2,600 people have been killed, and aid groups have blamed the Saudi-led bombing and limits on maritime traffic for exacerbating a humanitarian crisis in Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest country. 
With the failure of talks last week in Geneva to establish even a short-term cease-fire, it increasingly appears that Saudi Arabia lacks a realistic strategy to end the war, according to analysts and Yemenis interviewed in different parts of the country. In fact, many of them said Saudi intervention had made matters worse, expanding the violence while making resolution even harder to achieve.
“It is very clear that the Saudis did not do their homework before they went into Yemen,” said Farea al-Muslimi, a Yemeni visiting scholar at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, Lebanon. “They thought it would be really easy, but it has not turned out that way.”
Instead, Saudi Arabia and the coalition it is leading have added an international dimension to what analysts said had essentially been a domestic conflict, while also prompting frequent attacks on Saudi Arabia’s southern border and creating space for extremists to expand.

There is much riding on the outcome for the United States, which has provided the Saudis with advice on targets and has watched with dismay as the number of civilian casualties has risen. Yemen is home to the branch of Al Qaeda long considered the most dangerous to the West, and the jihadists of the Islamic State, new to the country, claimed a number of deadly attacks last week in Sana, the capital. 
But the stakes are higher for Saudi Arabia, which must defend a long and rugged border with Yemen and could find itself embroiled in a protracted, costly war at a time when falling oil prices have strained the country’s finances.
The New York Times does not stake out a bold position on foreign affairs that is at odds with the USG. So I would imagine this has been vetted ahead of time. While the nations of Europe essentially have no sovereignty when it comes to dealing with the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia have shown a greater degree of independence and autonomy. Hence, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia's ability to include an Al Qaeda bigwig, ‘Abd al Wahhab al Humayqani, in the Yemeni-government-in-exile delegation sent to the failed Geneva peace talks.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Neoliberalism Unbowed: Obama Gets Fast Track and Tsipras Accepts Austerity

Two big dollops of bad news to process. First, Obama was able, with the assistance of senate GOP majority leader Mitch McConnell and 13 Democrats, to push through a critical vote on trade promotion authority, a.k.a., fast track (Jonathan Weisman, "Trade Accord, Once Blocked, Nears Passage"). Even The New York Times editorial board, always a staunch supporter of anything having to do with free trade, sounds a note of trepidation ("President Obama Must Use Trade Authority to Reach Better Agreements"):
To secure broad and bipartisan support for trade agreements, the administration needs to reach deals that address the legitimate concerns raised by many Democrats. The deals must contain strong and enforceable provisions on workers’ rights and the environment. They should bar, or at least strongly discourage, countries from manipulating their currencies to bolster exports at the expense of businesses in other countries. And the deals must not contain overreaching investor protection clauses that allow foreign businesses to file frivolous and abusive arbitration claims against governments by contending they were hurt by laws and regulations. Philip Morris Asia, for example, has used investor provisions in other treaties to challenge tobacco policies in Australia.
This is all whistling pass the graveyard. As I opined previously, the Democrats are in serious trouble if the Trans-Pacific Partnership passes, something which seems a done deal now that Obama is about to get fast track. Democrats are looking at shrunken numbers in Congress. So far unions are standing by a pledge to block donations to any member of Congress who votes for trade promotion/TPP. I am not confident that this pledge will hold up into next year when some lukewarm friends of labor like senator Maria Cantwell are in tough reelection fights. Nonetheless progressive rank-and-file support for Obama, the Democratic Party, and, by association, the S.S. Clinton will be hard to come by.

But the second item of bad news, a truly depressing development that surfaced on Monday, is that Greek leader Alexis Tsipras capitulated to the troika and proffered an austerity package of increased taxes and pension cuts. Yves Smith summarized on Monday in "Short Greece Proposal Update: Greece Folds":
Note contrary to earlier media reports, it technically does not lower pensions payments but does reduce pension spending by requiring higher contributions, including payments from retirees themselves. As the Guardian’s Athens reporter, Helen Smith, notes: 
……there’s a hefty increase in revenues from VAT over the next 18 months.
Greece has also accepted that pension must be reformed, and is planning a hike in pension contributions and an increase in health contributions from retirees. However, it appears that actual pension rates won’t be cut, allowing Athens to argue it has kept to its red line.
Another quick verdict is that “pensions are almost spared“. And while European leaders are urging their peers to consummate a deal, it’s not clear these pension moves will be enough to satisfy countries like Slovaka, which have said they can’t stomach financing Greece’s more generous pensions. One rebellious country could probably be shamed into line, but we have yet to hear of the reactions from the real hardliners like Finland and Spain, since the summit has just begun.
The Tsipras capitulation is very Obamaesque in that on the surface it does not reduce pension payments, but on the back end there are an increase in fees, such as the requirement that pensioners shoulder more responsibility for healthcare costs. Similarly, while Obamacare has increased Medicaid enrollment, it has all but wiped out the full maintenance of benefit healthcare plan that used to be the default blue-chip industry standard. Now 70/30 or 80/20 co-insurance is the new normal. You might not have a premium share but it amounts to the same thing if you go to the doctor.

Smith wrote yesterday ("Deal With Greece Still Looks Wobbly") that the Tsipras capitulation in no way guarantees that the debt deal with the troika is home free. Apparently German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble is calling for even more Greek flesh. And Jim Yardley reports today ("Greek Debt Blueprint Gets a Cold Reception in Athens") that Tsipras faces a revolt from Syriza members in parliament:
“This makes life worse for ordinary citizens,” said Despoina Charalampidou, a Syriza lawmaker who is now a deputy speaker of Parliament. “The measures constitute austerity.” 
Sitting in her office in Parliament, Ms. Charalampidou stressed that the negotiations were continuing. She did not rule out supporting a final deal, especially if it included concrete European promises to reduce Greece’s public debt, estimated at around 320 billion euros, and provided structural funds to stimulate economic growth. 
“Otherwise, I don’t think it will pass,” she added. She said the prime minister was facing a “very complex, even insurmountable task.” She blamed European creditors for using negotiations to send a stern political message about challenging austerity, saying that they “want to humiliate the Greeks for the choice they made on Jan. 25,” a reference to Election Day. 
Harry Papasotiriou, a political analyst in Athens, predicted that most Syriza members would ultimately toe the line and support any deal endorsed by Mr. Tsipras. “He’ll survive politically, but down the road, he could suffer,” Mr. Papasotiriou said. 
Adonis Georgiadis, a member of the New Democracy party, which is now in political opposition after being voted out of the government in January, pounced at the chance to affix Syriza with the stain of austerity. “If this is not an austerity measure, can you explain what austerity is?” he asked. 
In the eyes of many Syriza leftists, any compromise that constitutes a major departure from their election mandate to roll back austerity is considered politically risky. 
Even though the negotiations have been ugly, Syriza remains popular, especially Mr. Tsipras, as many ordinary Greeks have relished the confrontation with Europe. But that has also placed Syriza in a tough political spot, since most analysts say compromise is inevitable if Greece wants to remain in the eurozone. 
“These measures cannot be voted for,” Alexis Mitropoulos, another Syriza lawmaker, told the Greek media on Tuesday. “This package that you have in your hands cannot be the one to be presented in Parliament.”
At this point I am inclined to think that Syriza members in the parliament are not as corrupt as the Democrats in the senate and that Tsipras will not being able to win approval for his capitulation to the troika. My thinking here is guided by the Sunday New York Times Magazine feature on Yanis Varoufakis that appeared in May. In that article finance minister Varoufakis was categorical: There would be no cuts to pensions; and if there were, he would resign from the government.

So we are at the point that either Syriza revolts and maintains its legitimacy as a standard bearer for a left alternative to neoliberal austerity, or it goes along with the Tsipras capitulation and another promising popular progressive movement is subverted.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

New Cold War Another Sign of Neoliberalism's Collapse

In a post I do on Fridays called Hippies vs. Punks I explore the spiritual platform (in Schopenhauer's sense that music is pure spirit) of the industrialized Western world when our current listing, foundering political-economic paradigm was inaugurated. That paradigm, neoliberalism, has been dominant for 40 years; but for the last 15, it has lurched from crisis to crisis, from economic meltdown to war back to economic crisis. During this 15-year period it has been well known by both the ruling elite and a significant segment of those who are ruled that the planet is experiencing a man-made ecological crisis, what is being called "The Sixth Extinction."

The paradigm, neoliberalism -- defined by a worship of markets and mammon, a concentration of wealth in the 1%, the immiseration of the 99%, brutal wars of choice and record numbers of displaced persons -- is obviously bankrupt. Not only is it bankrupt and destructive to life on the planet, it is anachronistic. The United States has in little over a year reestablished a Cold War with Russia, the thawing of which 25 years ago was probably the greatest triumph of the neoliberal paradigm.

David Herszenhorn reports in "Russia Assails Extension of E.U. Sanctions in Ukraine Crisis":
MOSCOW — Kremlin officials reacted furiously Monday to the European Union’s extension of sanctions on Russia through January, calling the measure self-defeating and accusing the West of crass anti-Russian bias by timing the decision to the nation’s commemoration of the Soviet victims of World War II. 
The Russian government said it would retaliate with an extension of countersanctions in response to the decision by European Unionforeign ministers, at a meeting in Luxembourg, which had been widely expected after European ambassadors reached a tentative agreement last week in Brussels. Russia had lobbied against the renewal of sanctions, which were first imposed in July 2014 in response to the Kremlin’sinvasion and annexation of Crimea.
“We are deeply disappointed that once again the opinion of the Russophobic lobby, which pushed through the decision to extend illegal restrictions, dominated in the E.U.,” the Foreign Ministry’s spokesman, Aleksandr K. Lukashevich, said in the statement. “At the same time, in Brussels they are deliberately tight-lipped about the fact that this is guaranteed to be followed by hundreds of thousands of Europeans, or millions, according to some estimates, losing their jobs.”
Mr. Lukashevich also complained that the West was placing unfair responsibility on Russia for carrying out the Ukraine cease-fire agreement, which was signed in February in Minsk, Belarus. Russia has long insisted that the Ukrainian government bears the largest responsibility for the failure so far to put the accord in effect.
“The E.U. keeps laying all the responsibility over the implementation of the Minsk agreements on the Russian side,” Mr. Lukashevich said. “The absurdity of this approach has been long clear to everyone. The key to the internal Ukrainian crisis was and still remains in the hands of Kiev, which is not hurrying to implement its responsibilities.” 
As for the timing of the announcement, Mr. Lukashevich added: “It looks especially cynical that the decision to extend the anti-Russian sanctions was taken by the E.U. states on June 22, the day when fascist Germany attacked the U.S.S.R. We would like to believe that this is a coincidence, and not an intentionally planned step.”
Couple this with a story from Eric Schmitt and Steven Lee Myers, "NATO Returns Its Attention to an Old Foe, Russia," and you get the picture that the New Cold War is here to stay:
It has involved a marked increase in training rotations on territory of the newer NATO allies in the east, and stepped up patrols of the air and seas from the Baltic to the Black Sea intended to counter an increase of patrols by Russian forces around NATO’s periphery. 
Most of those are temporary deployments. But in February, NATO announced that it would set up six new command units within the Eastern allies and create a 5,000-strong rapid reaction “spearhead” force. 
And the Pentagon now plans to preposition heavy American tanks and other weaponry in Eastern Europe for the first time, prompting unease in some quarters ahead of the NATO defense ministers’ meetings, and strong protests from Moscow that coincided with an announcement by President Vladimir V. Putin that he was bolstering Russia’s arsenal of strategic nuclear weapons
With the leaders of NATO’s 28 members scheduled to gather in Warsaw for an important summit meeting next year, the alliance is now considering what other measures are needed to adjust its forces, to increase spending that had plummeted as part of a “peace dividend,” and to revisit NATO’s military strategy and planning.
Soon "megadeath" will return to regular usage in our vocabulary as both the U.S. and Russia upgrade their nuclear arsenals.

Obama, the Nobel Peace Prize POTUS, will see his legacy defined as the leader who recreated the Cold War; hopefully when he is remembered he will be thought of with a feeling of nausea. Neoliberal leaders will go to any length to maintain their failed system.

Monday, June 22, 2015

In Wake of Emanuel AME Massacre Gray Lady Silent on Ukraine's Love of Dixie Battle Flag

On the Gray Lady's Opinion page today there is an interesting juxtaposition. On the left hand there is the lede unsigned editorial, "The Fantasy Mr. Putin Is Selling," which is a recapitulation of the main USG talking points regarding Russia and Ukraine (Putin's aggression; Western sanctions will cripple Russia); while on the right hand is a Morris Dees and J. Richard Cohen Op-Ed column, "White Supremacists Without Borders," about the global popularity of neo-Nazi, neo-fascist, neo-Confederate ideology that motivated mass murderer Dylann Roof.

What goes unmentioned in both is that the Ukrainian government that the United States stalwartly backs is rife with neo-Nazis, and that following the coup of president Viktor Yanukovych in February of last year the battle flag of the Confederacy was displayed in Kiev's city hall.

If you Google "Ukrainian Confederate Flag" stories pop up about the pro-Russian rebels' use of a standard that bares a resemblance to the Army of Northern Virginia. All the stories appear to trace back to a single report, "Ukrainian Rebels Channel U.S. Confederates," published last year at this time in the pro-Western, English-language, tiny-circulation Moscow Times. This was picked up by Slate which ran a story with images of the Novorrosiyan flag flying in Donetsk and the Dixie battle flag flying in front of the statehouse in South Carolina.

The Moscow Times story is obviously part of a counterintelligence campaign. No one questions that the putschists openly paraded the Confederate flag -- not a flag that bears a resemblance to a Confederate army standard -- in Kiev, and that the Confederate flag, as Dees and Cohen make clear in today's column, is part of the paraphernalia and iconography of white supremacy.

Since it is fruitless to ask that The New York Times balance its demonization of Putin and its Russophobia with a condemnation of the Ukrainian use of Nazi and Confederate symbols, we should take the time to note the "newspaper of record" supports white supremacy abroad at the same time it pleads for tolerance and an end to race hatred at home.

Sunday, June 21, 2015


I finished David Graeber's The Utopia of Rules (2015) yesterday. The concluding essay of the volume is "Batman and the Problem of Constituent Power," which is a critique of Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises (2012) and its ham-handed politics; in particular, its not so veiled attack on Occupy Wall Street (OWS).

Graeber, as is his incredibly erudite wont, covers a lot of ground in the essay. He makes numerous interesting points: the superhero comic book is basically the depiction of a violent fugue state birthed in the 1930s, a time when fascism and Freud were in the ascendant; the villain represents the creative id who needs to be battered into submission by the superhero super-ego in order to restore the status quo; the superhero does not use his (less often, her) amazing powers to change the system to feed the hungry or house the homeless, but rather merely in a reactive capacity to guarantee the maintenance of the present system.

Graeber acknowledges that there are comic books that deviate from this pattern. But on the whole, he asserts, the mainstream superhero titles of industry giants DC and Marvel follow this generalized pattern. I think he is right.

I haven't done a comic-book post in several weeks. Part of the problem is that I'm reading more book books on the weekend, but it also has to do with my disappointment in two of Marvel's recent crossover events, AXIS and Original Sin. What made my disappointment acute is that these crossovers were written by two of my favorites, Rick Remender and Jason Aaron. Aaron's Original Sin was superior to Remender's AXIS, but both seemed tired, scattered, as if the writers were punching the clock, distracted while on the job.

Reading Graeber reminded me of the importance of keeping on eye on the comic book. Comic books are a culture's conscious dreams, its fantasies of power revealed.

There was an article, "Rise of Far-Right Party in Denmark Reflects Europe’s Unease," by Steven Erlanger in yesterday's newspaper that fits well with AXIS #9: "New World Disorder: Chapter 3 - Grinding Halt." AXIS is a "world turned upside down" narrative. Villains are heroes; heroes, villains. All the old verities have been upturned, as you can see in the seven scans below. The All-New Captain American, the formerly angelic Falcon, pummels to near death a superannuated Steve Rogers, the original Captain American, who is trying to protect his lifelong mortal enemy the Red Skull who is now a feeble and decent White Skull. To say the least, things are crazy; or as Erlanger mentions in his story about the fracturing political landscape in Europe, the traditional center has lost credibility:
LONDON — The surprisingly strong showing in elections on Thursday of Denmark’s anti-immigration, anti-Brussels Danish People’s Party has underlined a growing crisis of confidence in traditional political institutions and in the European Union itself.
European officials have seemed incapable of framing a credible alternative narrative to that of their critics in the face of rising immigration and slow economic growth, and parties expressing popular anger and anxiety are gaining traction, pushing politics rightward in some of Europe’s wealthiest and most stable countries, like the Nordic nations, Britain and France.
At the same time, the inability of the European Union and the eurozone to negotiate a compromise with Greece over that nation’s financial problems — to the point where a Greek exit from the euro and even from the bloc itself cannot be ruled out — has further undercut confidence in traditional political leadership and in the direction of European politics.

“We are in a new place, and people are right to be worried about the political direction,” said Simon Tilford, deputy director of the Center for European Reform, a London-based research institution. “The eurozone crisis, combined with outside trends like migration and globalization, has exposed the disconnect between domestic politics in many countries and E.U. politics.”
The effort of traditional political parties to attract alienated and angry voters has shifted the discourse. “Once society legitimizes talking of immigration and immigrants in a way now routinely discussed, there is a greater risk of policy becoming more extreme,” Mr. Tilford said.
In Denmark, the center-left coalition lost to a center-right coalition, but the main surprise was the Danish People’s Party, which ran second with 21 percent of the vote and beat the center-right Liberals four years after finishing third with 12 percent of the vote. The Liberals are likely to form a coalition government in any case, but the People’s Party platform, appealing to anti-foreigner, anti-Islamic and nationalist sentiment while promising incentives to older people, suggested fundamental shifts in public opinion.
The same formula has been used by France’s National Front, which is running strongly in opinion polls, as well as by similar parties in Finland, Sweden and Britain, where the U.K. Independence Party won only one seat in May’s election but got nearly 13 percent of the vote.
Greece is led by the far-left Syriza party, which won on a promise to end the austerity imposed by Brussels and to get a reduction in Greece’s huge and probably unpayable mound of debt. Syriza, like many of the right-wing populist parties, appeals to voters unhappy with “dictates” from the European Union’s headquarters in Brussels that trump national politics.
“Syriza and the Danish People’s Party are mirror images of one another, part of the same megatrend now in many European countries,” said Mark Leonard, director of the European Council on Foreign Relations. “There is a remaking of the political order, with centrist parties that have run politics over the last few decades being hollowed out and replaced by parties appealing to the fringes.” 
To Mr. Leonard, the shift appears structural, similar to the way that liberal parties were weakened a century ago and then surpassed by socialist parties, like the Labour Party in Britain.

“Globalization produces winners and losers, and large groups feel they’ve been left behind, no longer represented by mainstream parties,” Mr. Leonard said.
Marvel is registering this shift. The latest crossover event, Secret Wars ("Time runs out. Everything ends. Secret wars commence.") chronicles the collision of various universes into Battleworld. "Battleworld" is an accurate label for the world in which we live today.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Hippies vs. Punks: Tom Tom Club

Back in February I posted on The Clash's "Overpowered by Funk."

Punks do hip hop. That was the message. I cited Tom Tom Club's "Wordy Rappinghood" as a probable influence. I put a request in at the public library for the 2009 deluxe edition 2-CD import of the 1981 eponymous Tom Tom Club debut album and the band's follow up, Close to the Bone (1983). Last week it finally arrived, and I've been listening to it since.

Tom Tom Club (1981) is another product of the genius of Chris Blackwell. He saw explosive creative potential in the Talking Heads rhythm section of Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz that others did not (or possibly he could have just been following the market, since both David Byrne and Jerry Harrison also released solo debuts in 1981). Blackwell's plan was to pair Frantz and Weymouth with superstar producer Lee "Scratch" Perry in a Bahamas recording studio. But Perry was a no show. So Steve Stanley stepped in and produced a miracle.

The album charted in both the UK and the United States on the strength of the first two tracks, "Wordy Rappinghood" and "Genius of Love," which became dance hall favorites.

I owned the album in cassette form back in the day, purchasing it when I first arrived at the university as a freshman. This would have been the end of summer 1982. At the time, Tom Tom Club seemed incredibly fresh and novel even if it was part of an old tradition of white artists "borrowing" from black ones. It seemed spontaneous, exuberant, playful, multicultural, with both black urban and French Caribbean influences.

For me Tom Tom Club and those first two cuts represent the sunshine of the early 1980s, an interesting time. Reaganism and Thatcherism were new and not really accepted as legitimate. Most thought of these new conservative governments as aberrational one-offs. We had no way of knowing the extent of the regression that Reagan and Thatcher represented. There were dark hints in the Reagan recession (something I have explored in a previous Hippies vs, Punks devoted to Generic Flipper) but for the most part the early 1980s were a time of hope, ska, new horizons and multiracial possibilities (something I scratched the surface of in a previous post on 2 Tone Ska).

In listening to the 2009 deluxe edition re-issue of Tom Tom Club what is striking is that once you get past the opening cuts and into the second side of the album a more ominous and brooding sound surfaces. I think the tendency in the early '80s was to not think too much about songs like "As Above, So Below"; "Lorelei"; "On, On, On, On . . ."; "Booming and Zooming" but the dystopian future was all there to hear.

One remarkable track from the 2009 deluxe edition re-issue that was not included on the LP, cassette or CD versions of Tom Tom Club is "Spooks (Single Version)." It is a menacing ambient harbinger of the "total awareness" national security state aborning. Even if it had been included on the original album, we wouldn't have noticed it. We were too busy dancing in the sunshine to new rhythms and beats. It is very noticeable now though:

Thursday, June 18, 2015

House Holds Hearings Titled "Assad's Abhorrent Chemical Weapons Attacks"

The bane of a frontline wage-worker's life is repetition. Life is largely routinized Monday through Friday down to quarter-hour intervals. There is a tiny bit of freedom that the weekend affords, but Saturday and Sunday, for me at least, are largely routinized as well.

The silver lining to all this repetition is that it does yield a certain kind of deep knowledge. Doing the same thing over and over again gives one a type of understanding that is prized as "organic."

Reading the newspaper every morning for years one bit of organic wisdom that I have gleaned is that anything in the Gray Lady with a byline by Eric Schmitt or Rick Gladstone usually mirrors a U.S. governmental department perspective. These reporters' jobs are to act as a conduit -- most of the time, not 100% of the time -- for USG propaganda.

Another fruit of repetition (we seem to be on a lunar cycle here) is the Syrian chlorine gas barrel bomb delivered by "only Assad's military has helicopters" helicopters. There were hearings held yesterday by the House Foreign Affairs Committee neutrally titled "Assad's Abhorrent Chemical Weapons Attacks." Gladstone, in his story covering the hearings, "Claims of Syrian Chlorine Bombs Counter News of Progress on Chemical Arms," could not bear to refer to the hearings by their title, no doubt because he is a seasoned propagandist and "Assad's Abhorrent Chemical Weapons Attacks" is clearly of a class with Gaddafi's rape rooms, Saddam's soldiers throwing babies onto the floor from their incubators, etc.

Gladstone even includes the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) announcement of the successful disposal of Syria's chemical weapons stockpiles as a way to balance the House Foreign Affairs Committee dog & pony show:
The monitoring group overseeing the destruction of Syria’s chemical arms stockpile said Wednesday that almost all effluent from the neutralized weapons had been eliminated, portraying the progress as a great success in the nearly two years since Syria agreed to give up its arsenal. 
But the news from the group, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, was partly overshadowed by outrage over what critics of the Syrian government call its increasingly brazen use of chlorine in makeshift poison gas bombs dumped on civilians and suspected rebels in the civil war. 
Witnesses at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing in Washington, including a Syrian doctor and a civil defense coordinator from areas said to have been attacked, described the chlorine bombs as horrific weapons that had asphyxiated young children.
One witness, Dr. Annie Sparrow, a pediatrician and human rights activist who has helped train doctors working in rebel-held areas of Syria, accused the Syrian government not only of using chlorine in bombs, but also of withholding chlorine for water purification and other critical sanitation needs in areas it does not control. 
Dr. Sparrow, an outspoken critic of the Syrian government, said it had “transformed a principal element of public health into a tool of disease and terror.” 
President Bashar al-Assad of Syria denies that his forces have dropped chlorine bombs, which would be a war crime. Such attacks would also violate the Chemical Weapons Convention, which the Syrian government, under heavy pressure from Russia, signed in 2013 to avert an attack threatened by the United States.
Gladstone doesn't mention that Dr. Annie Sparrow is married to Human Rights Watch (HRW) executive director Kenneth Roth. HRW authored a report, now discredited, blaming the Syrian government for the Ghouta sarin attack in August of 2013. Sparrow and Roth are partisans in the campaign to topple the Syrian government.

To get a more in depth look at these hearings one should consult a story (Alice Ross and Shiv Malik, "Syrian doctors to show the US evidence of Assad’s use of chemical weapons") that appeared in The Guardian a few days ago:
A network of Syrian doctors is due to tell the US Congress that Bashar al-Assad’s regime is systematically weaponising chlorine to spread fear among civilian populations, in defiance of a recent UN security council resolution.
The testimony on Wednesday will be accompanied by a dossier of evidence compiled by the Syrian American Medical Society (Sams), a charity that runs 95 medical facilities inside the country. It documents 31 separate chlorine attacks between 16 March and 9 June. The charity says all the attacks were conducted by launching barrel bombs from helicopters and many targeted civilian areas, leaving 10 dead and at least 530 people seeking medical treatment.
The dossier, which has been seen by the Guardian, provides US lawmakers with data, photos and videos that Sams says were taken in the aftermath of chlorine bombings in a province of Syria recently overrun by militants, including the al-Qaida-affiliated al-Nusra Front.
The Guardian has been unable to verify the material, which includes videos and photos of adults and children struggling to breathe, often wearing oxygen masks. Some are retching, while others are being stripped and hosed down to remove chemical residue.
Sams also provided the Guardian with a redacted list of basic patient information for 221 people treated for chlorine exposure. According to that list, 57 were under 18.
The lead medical coordinator for Sams in Idlib province, Dr Mohamed Tennari, has flown to Washington DC and has been invited to testify in front of the House foreign affairs committee on Wednesday morning. Tennari will say that although chlorine is less likely to kill than conventional weapons, it has created a “new type of psychological torture” for the Syrian people. He told the Guardian: “We would like to see a no-fly zone and increasing help being provided to refugees.”
The Sams data only reflects attacks that have been confirmed by the charity’s own facilities, and only those taking place in Idlib province. Other activists, including the White Helmets, a volunteer rescue service who will also testify at the hearing, have reported further incidents in the adjoining Hama province.
Recent reports suggest that militant forces in Syria, including Isis, are developing a chemical weapons capability of their own. Isis are understood to have used chlorine in Iraq. However, Sams said that all the attacks in their data were launched from helicopters, which are only operated by the Assad regime. [!]
The Syrian president has denied that his forces have deployed chlorine. Although the chemical is widely available, its weaponisation is strictly banned under international law. In an interview with France 2 on 20 April, Assad said there was no proof of chlorine use in attacks on Idlib city. 
“This is another fake narrative by the western governments … The regular armaments that we have are more influential than chlorine, so we don’t need it anyway,” he said. “We didn’t use it. We don’t need to use it. We have our regular armaments, and we could achieve our goals without it. So, we don’t use it. No, there’s no proof.”
These chlorine gas stories crop up every month to keep alive the issue of a no-fly zone in northern Syria. Obama's realpolitik brain trust has been wary of overt moves to get rid of Assad, but his administration has supported CIA front groups like SAMS and White Helmets. Once a neocon, whether Hillary or the Republican (whomever that may be), recaptures the presidency, the issue of chlorine gas will be part of the public record and used to launch the no-fly zone.

What is incredible to me is that even in a superior story like the one that appeared on Tuesday in The Guardian the absolutely bald lie that only Assad's regime operates helicopters used to deliver the chlorine barrel bombs in the Idlib and Hama is waved through without comment or disclaimer.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Default Does Not Equal a Grexit: Get Ready for Additional Acts in the Greek Debt Drama

It appears to me, and what I have said on this page in the past, is that there is no alternative to a Greek default on its debt obligation to the troika -- International Monetary Fund, European Central Bank and the European Commission; either that or a complete about-face by the troika, capitulating on its demands to cut pensions and loosen labor laws. Germany's strict allegiance to austerity, as well as antipathy towards Greece shared by eurozone states Finland, Spain, et al makes a troika capitulation a long shot.

Several stories this morning (James Kanter and Niki Kitsantonis, "Tsipras Attacks Greece’s Creditors as Pressure Grows on Debts"; Peter Eavis, "Greek Exit Would Shake, but Most Likely Not Shatter, Eurozone") sound the alarm on the coming Greek default. The one story that caught my eye though was an AP piece ("Will Greece Leave the Euro? A Look at Its Options") that problematizes the notion of any clear resolution of the Greek debt drama once the country defaults at the end of this month:
Here are some questions and answers on Greece's future. They could come in handy during Thursday's meeting of eurozone finance ministers in Luxembourg.
Technically, it can't. These are uncharted waters. European Union treaties legally allow members to leave the 28-nation EU, but no mechanism was foreseen to let countries leave the euro. Theoretically, if all 19 nations agree that it's time for Greece to go then a "Grexit" could be negotiated. Some argue the country might have to leave the EU altogether to leave the single currency. 
That would be when the European Central Bank decides to cut off emergency credit to Greece's banks, according to Zsolt Darvas, senior fellow at the Breugel think-tank in Brussels. 
That could happen if there is a run on Greek banks — in which case the ECB might not want to risk its money supporting them. Concerns over a run on banks could grow if it becomes clear that Greece will default on its next debt repayment, due June 30.
The ECB could also cut Greek banks loose if the country defaults on debt repayments due to the ECB in July and August. 
Banks would probably have to close for a while and when they reopen, the government would likely put limits on how much money depositors can take out. "People would try to take their money out of the banks. The banks would not be able to pay," Darvas says. "People would try to store their euros at home, not pay taxes, and the whole financial system would come to a halt." 
Apart from pay its debts on time, some experts believe Greece could limit the damage by engineering its departure in secret. A small group of officials could make the exit preparations and then act on them almost immediately. They would inform their eurozone partners just hours before Greece walks out the door, according Roger Bootle, who heads the research analysis group Capital Economics. The public would be the last to know.
Greece could go back to using the drachma or introduce a new currency. Either way, volume is essential, and that implies serious challenges. Iraq faced similar issues when it introduced a new dinar in just three months following the U.S.-led invasion. "You would need a huge volume, very quickly. There's also the transportation that is a very big challenge. A lot of police, troops would be required to attend to the cash needs of a country the size of Greek. Logistically it would be a huge challenge," Darvas says. 
Greece's bills won't go away, and the jury is out on whether they could be converted to a new currency, although Greece would probably try to redenominate and renegotiate the debt. The one advantage in this for Athens is that all kinds of loans would probably be written down by its creditors. But Darvas says that "all of these technical issues can be resolved. The economic costs of a euro exit — GDP fall and the rise in unemployment — will be far higher."
If you are burnt out on following the debt-negotiating drama don't expect any relief come end of the month. I don't think Greece has any intention of exiting the eurozone; if it had, if preparations were being made to issue drachmas, there would be leaks by now. Once Greece defaults, that is when another round of negotiations will get going. The ECB could force Greek banks to collapse by freezing Emergency Liquidity Assistance (ELA). But by making such a move, the troika would lose the political battle; Syriza would be vindicated.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Chozick on the Hillary Reboot: The Triangulator Triangulates Obama as He Attempts a TPP Triangulation of His Own

Amy Chozick has worked the Clinton beat for two years now. Chozick acts as midwife for the public relations campaigns launched one after the next to reinvent the bloated power broker we have come to know as Hillary, but Chozick can also be a stealthy critic as well.

An example can be found in last Saturday's repackaging ("Hillary Clinton Embraces Her Mother’s Emotional Tale") of Hillary as a loving daughter to a mother with a hardscrabble, emotionally-harrowing working-class story. If Hillary had a privileged, stable Illinois upbringing, her mother did not. Here is how Chozick sums up the Hillary reboot in a tidy four paragraphs that open the story:
Dorothy Howell [Hillary's mother] was 8 years old when her parents sent her away. It was 1927. Her mother and father, who fought violently in the Chicago boardinghouse where the family lived, divorced. Neither was willing to take care of Dorothy or her little sister. 
So they put the girls on a train to California to live with their grandparents. It did not go well. Her grandmother favored black Victorian dresses and punished the girls for inexplicable infractions, like playing in the yard. (Dorothy was not allowed to leave her room for a year, other than for school, after she went trick-or-treating one Halloween.) 
Unable to bear it, Dorothy left her grandparents’ home at 14, and became a housekeeper for $3 a week, always hoping to return to Chicago and reconnect with her mother. But when she finally did, a few years later, her mother spurned her again.
It took a long time for Hillary Rodham Clinton to fully understand the story of her mother’s devastating childhood. But now, four years after her death, Dorothy’s story is forming the emotional foundation of her daughter’s campaign for president, and will be a central theme in her big kickoff speech on Saturday.
Chozick, a media reporter before taking on the Clinton beat, explains to her readers why this reboot is important:
A sympathetic tale of her mother’s struggles could help Mrs. Clinton convince a struggling middle class that she understands their problems, aides said. A CNN poll released on June 2 showed that 47 percent of voters thought that Mrs. Clinton “cares about people like you,” down from 53 percent last July. Mrs. Clinton’s campaign aides have publicly shrugged off such polls as evidence that voters distrust Washington and politics in general, but privately they are strategizing about how to reframe the conversation.
The task at hand for the Clinton campaign is enormous, almost akin to an alchemical squaring of the circle: How to convince people that Hillary is not what she is? -- a member of the "Davos elite," a powerful, jet-setting celebrity that accepts gargantuan checks from sheikhs and moguls and cares less for ordinary working people than an antebellum plantation owner would for one of his infirm slaves. Hence, we have Hillary piggybacking on her dead mother's backstory.

Hillary came out swinging last Saturday (Amy Chozick, "Hillary Clinton, in Roosevelt Island Speech, Pledges to Close Income Gap") on Roosevelt Island, the long spit in the East River between Manhattan and Queens, promising to fight for the truck drivers and nurses. Chozick couldn't help getting in the dig that
For as much as the content of the speech mattered, the theater of it was equally important. For a campaign criticized for lacking passion, the event gave Mrs. Clinton the ability to create a camera-ready tableau of excitement.
The Brooklyn Express Drumline revved up the crowd assembled on a narrow stretch at the southern tip of the island. And Marlon Marshall, the campaign’s director of political engagement, rattled off statistics about the number of volunteers who have signed up and house parties held in the early nominating states. A section with giant screens set up for an overflow crowd stood nearly empty. 
But a crowd of supporters and volunteers from the staunchly Democratic New York area does not exactly represent the electorate writ large. The real test for Mrs. Clinton and how the speech was perceived will be in Iowa, where she was to travel on Saturday evening for several events. Iowa, the first nominating state, shunned her the last time she sought the presidency, in 2008.
The Clintons when they occupied the the White House in the 1990s were known for something called "triangulation," which was a way of running against your own party by cherry-picking policies from the opposition. Tony Blair made a career out of it in the UK as well.

As Obama's attempt at triangulation to get the Trans-Pacific Partnership through Congress has exploded in a ball of flames, it is interesting to note that at the core of Hillary's messaging is the triangulation of the Obama presidency. According to Chozick and Patrick Healy in today's story "Hillary Clinton’s Vows to ‘Fight’ Evoke a Populist Appeal and a Contrast With Obama":
In a roughly 45-minute speech on Saturday, Hillary Rodham Clinton made 14 references to herself as a fighter. 
She said she would “fight” back against Republicans, “fight” climate change, “fight” to “strengthen America’s families” and “fight” to “harness all of America’s power.” She used the verb in many of the same ways at her first major rally in Des Moines on Sunday, adding that she would “fight” for Midwestern values. 
The presidential campaign’s effort to define Mrs. Clinton as a fighter is, on the surface, a way to persuade middle-class voters that she is on their side. But it is also helping to convey a more subtle message: When it comes to political combat and perseverance, Mrs. Clinton is not President Obama. 
The theme is emerging just as Mr. Obama has suffered a major setback on trade, one that many in Congress say reflects his weaknesses, namely his standoffishness and his inability to forge coalitions for an agenda.
It is a hall of mirrors. Obama is working with Republicans to surreptitiously reintroduce Fast Track while Hillary is positioning herself on the corpse of Democrats' hopes that Obama was a transformative politician.

This cannot end well. Hillary has not put Benghazi and the email issue behind her, let alone successfully relaunching herself as a working-class champion. I am still of the belief that absent the GOP nominating Ted Cruz Hillary cannot win.