Monday, August 31, 2015

Europe's Refugee Crisis + Total War on Yemen

The newspaper is on the thin side this morning. The chief topic in the front section, in a continuation from Saturday, remains the migrant/refugee crisis confronting Europe. Suddenly, it is as if the West has awoke to the consequences of supporting a policy of regime change in North Africa and the Middle East. Never mind the obvious -- failed states in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen and Afghanistan; it took scores of dead bodies packed in a box truck abandoned on a highway in Austria for the alarm bell finally to be heard,

Steven Erlanger, a longtime Europe reporter for the Gray Lady, has published two helpful stories since Friday: "Europe’s Halting Response to Migrant Crisis Draws Criticism as Toll Mounts" and "Growing Migrant Crisis Prompts Call for Urgent Meeting of E.U. Officials." The consensus opinion, as reported by Erlanger, is the failure of the Dublin Regulation, the convention that requires asylum seekers to apply for protection in the first European Union country they reach. An ignored Dublin Regulation coupled with freedom of movement allowed in the EU's Schengen area gives us the status quo -- migrants/refugees arriving in Greece, Italy or Hungary overland via Serbia and then pushing north and west to the wealthy social democracies.

The EU summit called for the middle of September (if it is an emergency, why wait two weeks or longer?) looks to create a "line of defense" at the main entry points. According to Erlanger in the second story listed above,
LONDON — With increasing public consternation about the flow of migrants and asylum seekers to Europe and the dangers of their passage, Germany, France and Britain made a joint call on Sunday for an urgent meeting of European Union interior and justice ministers to find “concrete” measures to cope with the escalating crisis. 
In a quick response, Luxembourg — which holds the revolving presidency of the European Union — called such a meeting for Sept. 14 in Brussels. 
What is most urgent, the interior ministers of the three countries said, is agreement on the establishment of welcome centers in Greece and Italy to house, feed and screen migrants and asylum seekers, and to decide who should be allowed to remain as a legal refugee and who should be sent back home.
Similarly, the ministers said, the European Union must agree on a list of “safe countries of origin,” from which people would be considered migrants, not refugees, and therefore allowed to be sent home. The ministers’ appeal included the prospect of an emergency summit meeting of bloc leaders to follow.
Certainly Yemen cannot be considered among the "safe countries of origin." As Saeed al-Batati makes clear in "At Least 13 Reported Dead in Yemen Strikes," the Saudi-UAE-U.S. blockade, terror bombing and invasion of Yemen has long ago dropped the pretense that it is anything but a total war against the civilian population.
MUKALLA, Yemen — Airstrikes by a Saudi-led military coalition killed at least 13 civilians working early Sunday at a water plant in northern Yemen, the plant’s owner said. 
The bombings appeared to be the latest in a series of airstrikes by Saudi Arabia or its Arab coalition partners that have hit civilian facilities with no apparent military target nearby. Houthi rebels, who have been the main target of Saudi Arabia’s five-month military campaign in Yemen, were not in the immediate area at the time, according to Ibrahim al-Razoom, the owner of the plant. 
The airstrikes transformed the factory in Hajja Province, in the north, into “ruins” and wounded at least 11 other people, he said. 
The Saudi-led coalition rarely acknowledges whether its airstrikes have hit civilian targets. A coalition spokesman, Brig. Gen. Ahmed Asseri, told the Reuters news agency on Sunday that the plant had been used by the Houthis to make explosive devices and was not, in fact, a bottling factory.
The coalition has recently intensified its bombing of Hajja and other parts of Yemen bordering Saudi Arabia in response to more aggressive cross-border attacks by the Houthis. The airstrikes — including an intense barrage late Saturday and early Sunday in the city of Abs, in Hajja Province — are part of a broader escalation of fighting across the country that has prompted dire warnings from aid groups.
The charity group Save the Children issued a statement on Sunday warning that one of the main pediatric hospitals in the capital, Sana, faced imminent closure because of fuel shortages and a lack of medical supplies caused by fighting and the “de facto” blockade of Yemen by the Saudi-led coalition. The hospital, called Al-Sabeen, serves roughly three million people, the group said. 
Hospital staff members told Save the Children that Al-Sabeen had run out of critical supplies, including anesthetics, blood transfusion tests and food for severely malnourished children, and that it had enough fuel to run generators for only two days. 
“Should they be forced to close, hundreds of children currently admitted will stop receiving treatment,” the group said.
The Houthis are rightly taking the attack directly to Saudi territory; this, in combination with the stalled Saudi-UAE-U.S. offensive (see two recent posts at the Moon of Alabama: "How The Saudi/UAE Invasion Of Yemen Fails" and "Yemen: U.S. Doubles Down, Saudi-UAE Invasion Stuck"), leads one to believe that the Saudis might be losing their grip. And we know what to expect when this happens. Total destruction.

I haven't seen mention of Yemenis among the many nationalities arriving on Greek beaches or roaming the forests of Hungary. But I have read of Afghani citizens making the trek. Obama's national security adviser, Susan Rice, was in Islamabad over the weekend to hector the Pakistani government to do something about the Haqqani network, which, to cement its leadership of the Taliban in the wake of the revelation that Mullah Omar has been two-years gone, has staged a series of attacks in Afghanistan.

The refugee crisis will only grow worse. That is obvious. And the result at the very least will be a series of changes in governments in Europe.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Hank Johnson, Agent of Hydra One-Shot

With Hank Johnson, Agent of Hydra Marvel does want I always wanted it to do -- take a marginal villain, in this case a Hydra foot soldier, and build a narrative around him. Too bad the character isn't a throwaway bad guy with superpowers, like Molten Man or King Cobra, struggling to find work while dealing with nagging self-doubt and a crushingly low self-opinion. But Hank Johnson, Agent of Hydra, written by David Mandel of Curb Your Enthusiasm fame with art by the fantastic Michael Walsh, measures up just fine.

The point to be made here is the obvious one: Corporate behemoth Marvel continues its subversive ways; in this case, by creating a regular guy like Hank, who, in his everyday suburban life -- married with children and a minivan -- supports his family by working for the nihilist, terrorist international cabal known as Hydra. See, that's us; Hank is. In one way or another, by waking up and going to work and running in the rat race, we're just like Hank working for death-dealing Hydra. (Consult Derrick Jensen's Endgame.)

Below are six scans from the beginning of Hank Johnson, Agent of Hydra. Nick Fury invades Hydra HQ kills one agent and kicks poor Hank in the eye. Satori?

Friday, August 28, 2015

Hippies vs. Punks: The Bridge, A Tribute to Neil Young (1989)

Punk seems to be enjoying one of its periodic rebirths. Two recent articles piqued my curiosity. The first, "Berserktown Festival Offers a Chance to Meet Lesser Known Bands" by Ben Ratliff, mentioned a band by the name of Downtown Boys:
SANTA ANA, Calif. — “We are not all born equal,” announced Victoria Ruiz, the singer of Downtown Boys, on Sunday afternoon at the Berserktown festival here, in a voice usually reserved for megaphones at protests. 
“Some of us are born with resources very different from others,” Ms. Ruiz said. “These resources might be money, they might be land, they might be love. Maybe these resources shouldn’t be destroyed, but should be taxed. This inheritance is the euphemism for why we’re unequal. What if we taxed it by exactly 100 percent?” 
While introducing almost any song — this one was “100% Inheritance Tax” — Ms. Ruiz vaulted into sermons about ancient and modern power relationships, speaking to the end of her lung capacity and rushing on with gulps of air. 
Her speeches slid into music, and the band would start its wild, danceable clomp, accented by Joey L. DeFrancesco’s manic guitar riffing and Adrienne Berry’s short, stubborn tenor-saxophone vamps. 
Downtown Boys played one of the best sets at Berserktown, a provocative three-day festival of various extremes of punk, noise, metal and D.I.Y. culture, a sophisticated index of messy music and a rebuke to the proliferating summer music festivals that seem to book from the same pools of alternative music.
I downloaded the band's new album, Full Communism, but have only listened to it once. The sax does stand out, reminding one of First Wave Punks X-Ray Spex. Also, Victoria Ruiz's vocals seem to me to be similar to Meredith Graves of Perfect Pussy. Perfect Pussy is a Syracuse band, while Downtown Boys call Providence home. Maybe there is a I-90 Upstate New York to New England Punk sound.

The other article, Monday's "Review: Grace Jones Headlines a Bold Afropunk Festival Lineup," also by Ben Ratliff, caught my attention because of its mention of an incendiary set by the band Death Grips:

Punk appears to be back, to which I say good. Something is shifting. Punk usually arrives on the scene when dead weight needs to be blasted free. We can only hope that the present Punk rebirth is not of the ersatz variety. I am thinking here of the Green Day ascendancy. Following the Cobain burnout and the gradual banking of the flames of the grand Grunge barbecue, Green Day's schmaltzy pop Punk was shrewdly promoted by the major record labels as "the next big thing." It was nothing of the sort; it was an end of a line though.

Grunge got started at the end of the 1980s in Seattle, or so the story goes. But it was really two bands -- the Pixies out of Boston, and NYC's Sonic Youth -- and two records -- Surfer Rosa (1988), by the former; Daydream Nation (1988), the latter -- that made Grunge possible.

But the secret ingredient in Grunge is Neil Young. Throughout the 1980s, many a youth listened to Hardcore Punk -- Black Flag, Circle Jerks, Meat Puppets, Minutemen -- but when the lights dimmed at the end of the day and the last quart bottle of beer had been drained and the all the dope had been smoked likely to be found spinning on the turntable was After the Gold Rush (1970) or Harvest (1972).

When The Bridge: A Tribute to Neil Young appeared the summer of 1989 it heralded a new age. The Reagan era was coming to an end, and it was apparent, to me at least, that George Herbert Walker Bush wasn't going to be able to keep it rolling. I brought The Bridge home and played it repeatedly and I remember feeling validated, that I wasn't the only one who, despite the occasional derisive comment from a friend, was listening to Neil Young. Here, after all, were the leaders of the avant-garde, the Pixies and Sonic Youth, paying homage:

I read somewhere an interview with Neil Young where he said his two favorites tracks off The Bridge were "Winterlong" and "Computer Age." I think based on "Computer Age" he asked Sonic Youth to tour with and open up for him and Crazy Horse. (Kim Gordon had none too pleasant things to say about the experience.)

Most of the tracks on The Bridge are covers from songs off After the Gold Rush, like Victoria Williams' version of "Don't Let It Bring You Down":

A Nick Cave fan, I was partial to his version of "Helpless":

It was a high time, brimming with confidence that old forms could be made new.

It didn't work out that way. The flesh is weak and the mind is easily distracted. What starts out as a good idea usually gives way to the exigencies of making money. All we are left is the backward glance and the solace of sentimentality.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Trump's Staying Power

The week began with a frontpage acknowledgement in the "newspaper of record" (Michael Barbaro, Nate Cohn and Jeremy Peters, "Why Donald Trump Won’t Fold: Polls and People Speak") that Donald Trump is the front runner to win the GOP presidential nomination. After repeatedly dismissing the real estate mogul as a flash in the pan, a figure that would soon diminish in the polls after voters came to their senses, the organs of elite opinion have shifted their point of view to grudgingly accept that Trump's support is broad and comparatively deep:
In the command centers of Republican presidential campaigns, aides have drawn comfort from the belief that Donald J. Trump’s dominance in the polls is a political summer fling, like Herman Cain in 2011 — an unsustainable boomlet dependent on megawatt celebrity, narrow appeal and unreliable surveys of Americans with a spotty record of actually voting in primaries. 
A growing body of evidence suggests that may be wishful thinking. 
A review of public polling, extensive interviews with a host of his supporters in two states and a new private survey that tracks voting records all point to the conclusion that Mr. Trump has built a broad, demographically and ideologically diverse coalition, constructed around personality, not substance, that bridges demographic and political divides. In doing so, he has effectively insulated himself from the consequences of startling statements that might instantly doom rival candidates.
In poll after poll of Republicans, Mr. Trump leads among women, despite having used terms like “fat pigs” and “disgusting animals” to denigrate some of them. He leads among evangelical Christians, despite saying he had never had a reason to ask God for forgiveness. He leads among moderates and college-educated voters, despite a populist and anti-immigrant message thought to resonate most with conservatives and less-affluent voters. He leads among the most frequent, likely voters, even though his appeal is greatest among those with little history of voting.
That was from Sunday. Since then what we have seen is a circling of the wagons, as columnists decry Trump's divisiveness and analysts attempt to undercut the polling that puts Trump so clearly ahead in the hearts and minds of the citizenry of the "indispensable nation."

For an example of the latter, one can consult Nate Cohn's "There’s Evidence That Trump’s Polling Support Is Overstated." But really it is the headline of Cohn's article that is overstated. For after an interesting discussion of how election opinion polls work and agreeing with the hypothesis that Trump's national numbers are soft if looked at through the prism of repeat voters, Cohn concludes that "Over all, the data is consistent with the view that Mr. Trump’s support might be overstated by public polls. But he leads among voters who have participated in one or 12 elections. His challenge among likely voters isn’t necessarily unique. His lead might be modestly overstated, but it’s not a mirage." In other words, Trump is for real. (This is basically the gist of yesterday's frontpager by Trip Gabriel, "Test for Donald Trump: Turning Crowds Into Real Voters.")

Trump's Tuesday-night kerfuffle with Univision's Jorge Ramos offered an opening for tastemakers to cluck their tongues (see Michael Barbaro's "Testy News Conference Exchange Puts Donald Trump’s Quirks on Display"). And while this kind of public confrontation exposing Trump's pomposity might bear fruit in the future, I'm sure Trump will adapt and learn how to diffuse such standoffs.

Where Trump is vulnerable is how he has made his money. David Cay Johnston effectively skewers the Trump business model as being built on consorting with organized crime and refusing to pay subcontractors.

What will keep Trump in the contest is the public's disgust for the alternatives. In closing, keep this fact in mind from a story yesterday by Eric Lichtblau, "Bernie Sanders’s Success in Attracting Small Donors Tests Importance of ‘Super PACs’ ":
Super PACs supporting Mrs. Clinton have already raised more than $20 million, records show; on the Republican side, two super PACs backing Jeb Bush raised about $108.5 million.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Don't Bet Against China: This is a Market Correction Not a Financial Crisis

On my way out of town when the global market slide commenced at the end of last week, I was not able to stay abreast of the news coverage. Old friends who I met asked what I thought. Were we heading into another financial crisis? My answer, for what it is worth, was no. People have been predicting a China meltdown for years, and it hasn't happened yet. The Communist Party has been able to centrally manage impressive growth year in and year out for decades; there is no reason to believe that they can't succeed in converting China to a mature, Western-style consumption-based economy.

That being said, something is definitely happening here. Chinese demand for raw materials is slackening, which has an effect on commodity prices worldwide. Then there is the issue of currency. The dollar has run up in value, which prompted a devaluation in the renminbi earlier this month; and prior to that, the yen. Draped on top of all this is the jingoistic Western press which wants to fix blame squarely with China for the stock selloff. (A good example of this today is Eduardo Porter's fabulistic "Political Risks May Foil Economic Reform in China," or Thomas Friedman's shrill "Bonfire of the Assets, With Trump Lighting Matches.")

I think Chinese prime minister Li Keqiang gets it right (see Neil Gough and Chris Buckley, "China Again Cuts Interest Rates as Concerns Mount Over Economy"):
“Currently, global economic trends are opaque and confusing, and market volatility is quite large, and this has had some impact on the Chinese economy,” Mr. Li said, according to a report on Chinese television news. “But fundamentally the overall stability of the Chinese economy has not changed, and positive factors sustaining a turn for the better in the real economy are accumulating.”
China, he added, would be able to fulfill its economic goals for the year. Mr. Li also noted that there would be no continued depreciation of China’s currency, the renminbi, after a sharp devaluation earlier this month. The currency “can maintain fundamental stability at a reasonable and balanced level,” he said.
This point of view -- that China, the world's second largest economy, is fundamentally sound -- is echoed from both poles of the political spectrum. On the one hand, you have Michael Hudson, in the Democracy Now! video at the top of the post, saying that the Chinese are successfully managing the conversion of their economy away from an export-dominated model, and that the stock drop in the U.S. is basically panic selling to get out of the market before the bubble bursts; while on the other hand, you have an op-ed, "False Alarm on a Crisis in China," by Nicholas Lardy, senior fellow at the Peterson Institute, in fundamental agreement with contrarian firebrand Hudson -- China's economy is strong; what we are witnessing here is a market correction:
Washington — CHINA, many believe, is in a financial and economic meltdown causing anxiety and panic everywhere. China’s stock market dive first dragged down other emerging markets and has now spread to the United States, slicing trillions of dollars off the value of stocks traded here and in other global markets. Since China is the world’s second largest economy and has growing financial ties around the world, developments there clearly have enormous potential implications for both developed and emerging markets.
But the popular narrative is not well supported by the facts. There is little evidence that China’s economy is slowing significantly from the 7 percent pace reported by the government for the first part of the year. Wage growth is running at about 10 percent annually; the pace of creation of nonagricultural jobs is stronger than in any recent year; both real disposable income and consumption expenditures of Chinese households are growing strongly. It is not the picture of an economy heading for a hard landing. 
Services, not industry, are driving China’s growth, as has been the case for three full years. This is likely to continue since per capita incomes in China are reaching a level where a growing share of spending is on entertainment, travel and other services rather than on goods.
Naysayers question government economic data, continuing to focus on weakness in China’s industrial sector and the extremely slow growth of electric power output. But steel production, for example, is significantly more energy intensive than entertainment, so the demand for electricity has fallen sharply as the structure of the economy has evolved.
Assuming that electric power growth is a good proxy for China’s overall economic expansion is like trying to drive a car by looking in the rearview mirror.
Some economists watching from abroad believe that the country is in the midst of a financial crisis because of the excessive debt burden it incurred in recent years. But that view is even less well supported. After a very modest two-day depreciation earlier this month, the exchange rate of the renminbi has changed little against the dollar for eight consecutive trading days; capital outflows continue at a moderate, very sustainable pace; bank liquidity remains strong. This does not yet look remotely like a financial crisis.
Rather than a financial and economic meltdown, China is experiencing an overdue correction in its equity market. And the connection between China’s equity market and China’s real economy has always been tenuous.
Don't bet against China.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Snap Elections in Greece and Turkey

Snap elections have been called in Greece (September 20) and Turkey (November 1). The rival nations of the Aegean both tout wounded leaders trying to solidify a disintegrating base of support.

One can only hope that Tsipras and Erdogan suffer a huge defeat at the polls. If democracy is to work elections must matter. In the case of Greece, that huge "Oxi" vote against austerity must be matched by tossing Tsipras from power. The discussion now is what new party formations will appear in the run up to the election. Syriza's Left Platform is making noises that it will create a "Oxi" party, while Tsipras is considering a new PASOK-type "socialists who support neoliberal hegemony" grouping.

In Turkey, Erdogan's corruption and warmongering have led to a crisis in confidence. The Islamist president is playing the divide-and-conquer game by going after the Kurds, hoping that his Justice and Development Party will gain at the expense of the Kurdish bloc.

In both Greece and Turkey, may the people be granted the strength and wisdom to see through the bullshit.


I'm out of town for the next few days.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Hippies vs. Punks: Matthew Shipp's Piano Sutras (2013)

About a month ago I read some very positive comments about Matthew Shipp's Piano Sutras (2013) on the digital bulletin board of my public library. So I placed a hold on the record; it arrived at the end of last week; and I've been playing it ever since.

A solo piano recital (for an excellent review, see Will Layman's PopMatters piece) Piano Sutras sounds remarkably fresh, even after listening to the album 15 times in a row. Why is that? My guess is that it is because Piano Sutras manages to aurally picture our present history.

Two-thousand-thirteen in many ways is the jumping off point for our present history, a.k.a., the Zeitgeist. Obama's landslide reelection, rather than heralding a renewed progressive national government, turned out to be nothing more than business as usual.

The year began with the Democratic administration basically throwing in the towel on the fiscal cliff and sequestration negotiations, leaving the GOP to continue to dictate the agenda. Then in May Snowden flew to Hong Kong and revealed that Obama's government was spying on everyone globally. This was followed in July by the Sisi coup in Egypt, rolling back the Arab Spring, and then the Ghouta sarin attack in August, which prompted the Nobel Peace Prize winning president to illegally threaten to bomb a sovereign nation.

In other words. by the end of summer 2013, the idea that Obama represented something other than the maintenance of a rancid, war-based status quo could no longer be maintained rationally. The botched roll out of his signature legislative initiative, Obamacare, in the fall of 2013 reinforced the assessment that, according to Donald Trump's current mantra, "Our politicians are stupid."

Recorded in Brooklyn in February of 2013, Piano Sutras is pregnant with complex dark tones sprinkled with shards of light, the perfect soundtrack for the Zeitgeist of mass opt-out. Our politicians have failed; rather, our politicians are not our own but the employees of the super-rich. Things will continue to grow worse whether we try to catapult backwards to a more honest age (Bernie Sanders) or blow the whole fucking mess apart by launching a Latino pogrom (Donald Trump). Our present history demands enormous, dislocating alterations. Much pain is bubbling down the Zeit-sluice our way.

Bookmakers earn their living by accurately interpreting the Zeitgeist. Matthew Shipp is a master bookie. Do yourself a favor. Prepare yourself for what is coming. Listen to Piano Sutras. You will be stronger for it.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Spectacular Failure of Syriza

The Associated Press has a succinct roundup of Syriza's abject failure in "Greece Gets First Batch of New Bailout Loans, Avoids Default," while the Gray Lady's Alison Smale provides a lifeless puff piece, "An Architect of the Latest Greek Bailout Navigates Germany’s Dual Roles," on Germany's victorious finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble.

Syriza's capitulation is complete now that the third bailout agreement has been finalized and the money from the creditors to the creditors is starting to flow. Nothing has changed, as the AP story makes clear. The chairs on the Titanic have been rearranged:
ATHENS, Greece — Greece received the first 13 billion euros ($14.5 billion) from its new bailout package on Thursday, allowing it to pay a debt of 3.2 billion euros to the European Central Bank and avoid a messy default.
Greece could not have afforded Thursday's debt repayment, which was confirmed by the debt management agency, without the rescue funds from 18 other European nations that share the euro currency. Missing the payment would have raised new questions about the country's ability to remain in the euro.
European bailout fund supervisors approved the release of the first batch of loans on Wednesday evening. Twelve billion euros are earmarked for repaying debts and the remainder for settling arrears to public sector suppliers.
The new three-year bailout package — Greece's third bailout in little more than five years — is worth a total of 86 billion euros ($96 billion), and the gradual disbursement of funds depends on the Greek government implementing a series of reforms, including steep tax hikes and spending cuts.
Accepting the conditions was a major reversal of policy for Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and the coalition government between his radical left Syriza party and the small nationalist Independent Greeks. It has cost him a major rebellion within Syriza that threatens to split the party and could lead to an early election as soon as next month.
Tsipras has been contemplating his options after a parliament vote to approve the bailout conditions led to dozens of his own party lawmakers voting against him. Among the options being discussed are for him to call a vote of confidence in his government or to call an early election outright, potentially in September.
The government has said its main priority was to secure the bailout funding and to repay the ECB loan on Thursday, after which it would announce any further action.
The prime minister was holding meetings with his ministers, and there was speculation an announcement could come as soon as Thursday afternoon.
The political uncertainty took its toll on the market, with the Athens Stock Exchange down 2.8 percent in early afternoon trading.
Tsipras won general elections in January on promises to repeal similar austerity measures attached to Greece's two previous bailouts. But he has said accepting creditor demands for yet more reforms was the only way to ensure his country remains in the eurozone, which opinion polls have shown the vast majority of his population wants.
Hardliners within his party have accused him of capitulating to unreasonable demands that will plunge the Greek economy further into recession.
Hopefully Tsipras will be tossed from power. The dominant neoliberal paradigm survives because politicians say one thing to the electorate -- promising to tax the super-rich and invest money in social programs; economic justice, basically -- and then when they govern they refuse to do what they were elected to do. Tsipras is a prime example. Obama is another. It also explains why Hillary Clinton has a lot of name recognition but very shallow support. Voters know what they are going to get -- a lot of articulate remedies delivered at campaign events, but nothing or next to nothing once on the throne. It is why there has been a Trump boom. His pandering seems to have ruptured the conventional boundaries of neoliberal discourse. Trump is critical of free trade and by demonizing immigrants he is trying to frack what is left in the played-out well of white backlash. Maybe Greece will lurch rightward in a Trumpist direction after Syriza's spectacular failure.

Whither the dialectic? Can the dialectic, the engine of history, be stemmed? That is what we are seeing in our present history. The rulers are refusing to budge. They are trying to roll back the tide, whether it is the Arab Spring or Occupy Wall Street or Syriza. Neoliberalism will out.

The 2011 Arab Spring has been, at least temporarily, successfully subverted at the cost of destroying the Sykes-Picot Middle East. Instead of an efflorescence of democracy, the region now has a caliphate which has re-legalized slavery.

Occupy Wall Street was successfully razed and then co-opted by Obama 2012. But Obama in his second term was quickly a disappointment. By 2013 the faithful were deserting en masse.

Syriza following its election victory in January became the vehicle for change. Instead, it ended up implementing neoliberal austerity. More of the same, even though the people voiced support to break free of the paradigm in the historic "Oxi" vote.

The hubris of the power brokers is the belief that history can be mastered, toyed with, subverted -- that neoliberalism can be maintained, despite enormous costs, with a tweak here and there.

But it cannot.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

War Crimes in Yemen

The Gray Lady seems to be paying more attention to Yemen these days. The Saudi-led, U.S.-backed destruction of the poorest Arab nation has received spotty coverage in the "newspaper of record" because it tars the Obama administration as guilty of war crimes.

Today a story by Rick Gladstone, "Amnesty International Says All Sides in Yemen Have Committed War Crimes," makes this quite clear. Amnesty released a report, "Yemen: Bloody trail of civilian death and destruction paved with evidence of war," as did UNICEF, "Yemen Conflict: Over a thousand child casualties so far," which detail the crimes against humanity. As Gladstone says,
The Amnesty and Unicef reports were released as heavy airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition hit Yemen’s Red Sea port of Hodeida, the main gateway for trade and emergency supplies to north and central Yemen.
Jamal Ayesh, the port director in Hodeida, said that the airstrikes hit after midnight, destroying the only five cranes in the port. He said that hangars used for maintenance and storing goods were also destroyed. “We can say that the cranes are out of service now,” he said.
Lloyd’s List, a London-based news service for the insurance industry, said Hodeida had closed because of the airstrikes.
Edward Santiago, the Yemen director for Save the Children, said in a statement that the full extent of the damage to Hodeida was unclear, but that “the impact of these latest airstrikes will be felt most strongly by innocent children and families.”
Mr. Santiago called the Hodeida bombing “the final straw.”
More than 4,000 people have been killed in Yemen, the Middle East’s poorest country, since March, when the Saudis began bombing Houthi rebels who had driven the Saudi-backed government into exile. Saudi Arabia views the Houthis as proxies of Iran, its regional rival.
Yemen is now one of the world’s most acute humanitarian catastrophes, with 80 percent of the population in dire need of food and other emergency relief.
The Houthis have suffered a series of defeats in the past month and have been driven out of the southern port of Aden by fighters aligned with the exiled government.
Although the Houthis still control Sana, the capital, exiled Yemeni officials are predicting that they will reclaim it within weeks.
The important thing to remember here is that the United States is acting as air-traffic controller for the Saudis, not to mention that the U.S. Navy is participating in the blockade of Yemen. Beyond a doubt, the Obama administration is participating in a total war on the Yemeni civilian population. The airstrikes on the port of Hodeida are intended to staunch the flow of aid to territory that the Houthis control. The Obama administration is guilty of war crimes; this should be obvious to all.

Remember this the next time some Western official stands at a lectern and admonishes the Syrian government for insufficient care to its civilian population. Because of the dominant role that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Israel play in the determination of U.S. foreign policy, Obama did a somersault and now fully and openly backs the Egyptian police state of Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi. One wonders how Obama is going to explain away the famine he is helping to create in Yemen.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Trump Sitting Pretty

I woke up last night thinking about Donald Trump's ever-present "MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN" cap. Trump wears it whenever he is outdoors to protect his elaborate comb-over from a troublesome gust of wind. Could Trump's pomposity bear a flapping in the breeze of a comb-over revealing the baldpate of an aged man? If Trump ends up in the White House will he shun the Rose Garden? If he goes to Arlington National Cemetery to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns will he do so with "MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN" firmly secured to his head?

Then I asked myself, "Why am I thinking about this?" Though it did feel like a revelation, much other significant news is aborning. There is continued movement to jump start peace talks on Syria. Jejune Saudi defense minister Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud could be proving his naysayers wrong as the Houthis appear to be on the run in Yemen.

But the news dominating the coverage in the United States is of the 2016 presidential election still half-a-year off.

At this point I don't see how Trump can be beat. Over the weekend he released his plan to deal with immigration. It is being roundly criticized in the press. There is a particularly cogent piece, "Donald Trump’s Claims on Immigration: A Reality Check," and it is short too, in today's paper by longtime Mexico reporter Julia Preston. She lists the plan's many contradictions and failings before concluding with an acknowledgement of its political potency:
Yet among Mr. Trump’s populist proposals are some that could attract support from Americans in the beleaguered middle class. He went further than his rivals calling for changes to the temporary work visas known as H-1B, to raise the wages paid to immigrants and tighten requirements for employers to search first for Americans to fill jobs.
This is an issue that resonates with many voters across the political spectrum. The digital economy is creating pockets of amazing wealth which is not trickling down to the "soccer mom" suburbs. The go-go growth is in the urban core and the jobs appear to be going to foreigners from Indian. Trump can demonize Mexicans at the low end and Indians and Pakistanis at the high end, and he'll laugh all the way to election day.

Hillary on the other hand is not laughing. In fact, she should be crying (though Nate Silver gives her an 85% chance to win the Democratic nomination; Nate Cohn, the Gray Lady's Nate Silver simulacrum, basically agrees, without quantifying the odds).

An interesting longer story today by Amy Chozick and Eric Lichtblau, "Facing Money Gap, Hillary Clinton Slowly Warms to ‘Super PAC’ Gifts," gets at why both Silver and Cohn think that Hillary will have a tough time in the general election. The GOP is raising a lot more money in million-dollar-plus Super-PAC contributions, and this money is being used by both top-contenders like Jeb Bush and also-rans like Carly Fiorina to pummel Clinton in the here and now:
Republican contenders have used their overflowing coffers to bash one another, but the money has also helped finance months of attacks on Mrs. Clinton.

In mid-September, Right to Rise, a super PAC supporting Mr. Bush, plans to spend at least $10 million on television ads in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, said Paul Lindsay, a spokesman for the group. Last month, Mr. Bush’s two PACs, which raised a record $108.5 million, reported spending $100,000 on online ads in early primary states in part opposing Mrs. Clinton.
And a super PAC supporting the Republican candidate Carly Fiorina, which recently trumpeted a “fiery new attack ad aimed squarely at Hillary Clinton,” received about $1.6 million, nearly half its funding, from a single donor: A. Jerrold Perenchio, a Los Angeles billionaire who made his money in media investments. 
Mrs. Clinton’s donors have taken notice. “Over the last two months, they’ve seen in real time what’s actually happening on the other side and the severe attacks Hillary is under,” Mr. Cecil said, “and the reality that when it comes to how campaigns are won, the ground underneath us has changed.”
Romney was a weak candidate. But what 2012 proved in terms of presidential electioneering is that if you drive up a candidate's negatives sky high early on then that candidate is most likely doomed come November. This is what Hillary is up against. Sanders is going to rough her up as well.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Europe's Refugee Crisis: Best Hope for Peace in Syria, but Don't Count on It

The best hope for peace in Syria might very well be the mounting refugee crisis Europe is now confronted with. A good story by Ceylan Yeginsu and Anemona Hartocollis, "Amid Perilous Mediterranean Crossings, Migrants Find a Relatively Easy Path to Greece," detailing how Syrians get from the southern coast of Turkey to the nearby Greek island of Kos, appears in this morning's paper:
The International Organization for Migration, based in Geneva, said Friday that nearly 250,000 migrants had crossed the Mediterranean to Europe this year, already more than for all of 2014. Greece alone, it said, had reported 134,988 arrivals from Turkey this year. 
Singling out the strain on Greece, the United Nations has called for urgent action to address the crisis in Europe. 
For many of the refugees, Greece is seen as a steppingstone to Western Europe. Although Turkey is hosting nearly two million Syrian refugees, more than any other country, many Syrians say that they do not see a future there. 
To get to Europe, they depend on a vast illegal migrant smuggling operation that has grown over the past year as the Syrian civil war grinds on.
The problem for Europe is that it is wedded to the U.S.-Turkey-GCC regime-change policy dictating that Assad must go in order for there to be any peace. This policy of course has led to the efflorescence of jihadi groups using Turkey as an entry point to Syria and Iraq. Now we have a caliphate where slavery is practiced.

A particularly disturbing story by Rukmini Callimachi appeared last Friday, "ISIS Enshrines a Theology of Rape," which explains how the caliphate uses captured Yazidi girls and women as sex chattel. Here is how Callimachi ends her piece:
One 34-year-old Yazidi woman, who was bought and repeatedly raped by a Saudi fighter in the Syrian city of Shadadi, described how she fared better than the second slave in the household — a 12-year-old girl who was raped for days on end despite heavy bleeding. 
“He destroyed her body. She was badly infected. The fighter kept coming and asking me, ‘Why does she smell so bad?’ And I said, she has an infection on the inside, you need to take care of her,” the woman said. 
Unmoved, he ignored the girl’s agony, continuing the ritual of praying before and after raping the child. 
“I said to him, ‘She’s just a little girl,’ ” the older woman recalled. “And he answered: ‘No. She’s not a little girl. She’s a slave. And she knows exactly how to have sex.’’’ 
“And having sex with her pleases God,” he said.
No wonder there is a refugee crisis. What Turkey facilitated on the front end by funneling jihadis across the border, it is now promoting on the back end by acting as a transit center for not only Syrians, Afghans, Iraqis, but Pakistanis and Bangladeshis as well.

Expect the number of refugees to mount. Increased fighting appears to have returned to the suburbs surrounding Damascus. The UNHCR is calling for a plan of action. The problem is that right-wing nativism is on the upswing in Europe. Governments will not want to risk popular reaction by implementing a system that will lead to the introduction of more refugees.

The obvious thing to do would be to end the fighting in Syria and Iraq and roll up the Islamic State. But Europe cannot exercise its sovereignty when it comes to war and peace. The U.S. calls the shots. We saw this clearly in Ukraine.

So the U.S. double game -- aiding the jihadis while fighting the jihadis -- will continue and the European Union will likely continue to fracture.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Hippies vs. Punks: Red Stars Theory

Red Stars Theory was a post-rock band active in Seattle in the fertile post-Grunge period of 1995-2000. Founded by James Bertram, who would go on to play bass for 764-HERO, and featuring Modest Mouse's Jeremiah Green on drums, Red Stars Theory's music is slow, meandering, tasteful; the vocals, almost an afterthought.

Red Stars Theory produced several EPs and two LPs, But Sleep Came Slowly (1997) and Life in a Bubble Can Be Beautiful (1999). But Sleep Came Slowly was put out on Sub Pop Records sub-label Rx Remedy. The band then moved to Chicago-based Touch And Go Records, which released Life in a Bubble and the EP Red Stars Theory (2000). Both albums and the Touch And Go EP can be downloaded from Amazon.

I would suggest working through the recordings chronologically. In But Sleep Came Slowly, the listener has some reference points to mark the way. For instance, one can hear the influence of Sonic Youth's EVOL (1986). Then in succeeding recordings, the band's sound generally gets more meandering and soporific. Codeine is not a poor comparison.

The period that Red Stars Theory was active, mid- to late-90s, was probably the last time rents were affordable enough in the Emerald City that one could work a low-wage, temporary job and manage to scrape by while at the same time pursuing artistic endeavors. With the millennial dot-come bubble things changed. Seattle lost its ability to support fringy art forms, whether painting, theater or rock'n'roll.

The period from Cobain's suicide and Kristen Pfaff's overdose (which happened in the apartment building next to my own) to the millennium was a rich fin de siècle in Seattle. Listening to a lot of Red Stars Theory, as well as 764-HERO and Joel RL Phelps and the Downer Trio, I realize how aurally distinct a time it was.

Starting a new job recently, working in a part of downtown I have not frequented in more than 12 years, walking to work on a path I haven't trod since I was in my 30s, I bump into my ghost from this fin de siècle Seattle. Heavy, sad, diffident, I have to say Dylan got it wrong. I don't love someone or something more than ever now that the past is gone. At least in this case, I am relieved that the past is gone.

But it makes sense that the sound of fin de siècle Seattle was what it was. Grunge rock'n'roll was supposed to be the perfect liberating synthesis of Hippie and Punk. When it turned out to be nothing more than another venue for commercial exploitation, we were left plodding on a fertile but confusing plain to the digital millennium.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

China's Currency Devaluation: End of Dollar's Hegemony?

Dipping into the coverage of what is being labeled China's "currency plunge," one finds reporting that is all over the map. For the alarmist perspective -- China's robust growth is actually an Oz-like mirage; an incipient trade war is brewing with cascading currencies devaluations -- read Neil Gough's "Devaluation Hints at China’s Rising Distress Over Economy" which appears today on the front page, upper right corner, of the NYT national edition. 

While Gough includes some helpful numbers to illustrate ebbing construction in China, the idea that the country might be headed for recession seems absurd to me; in fact, Gough undercuts it himself in his choice of a closing for the article:
As the government pumps money into the market and the broader economy, it will help, along with moves like the devaluation. It is just not clear how solid the economy will actually be. 
“It’s all about the quality of growth,” said Victor Shih, a China scholar at the University of California, San Diego. “If they want to, they can always achieve the right rate of growth.” 
The Chinese government, he added, just needs to find a group of people and “tell them to go dig a ditch.”
The Chinese government has proven repeatedly to be adept at managing its high-growth economy, something that you will not see acknowledged in the Western mainstream press. In the United States, the idea that markets can be effectively manipulated by government bureaucrats is akin to championing child molestation.

A good story to go for one-stop shopping is Neil Irwin's "Why Did China Devalue Its Currency? Two Big Reasons." Those two reasons are 1) because the Chinese renminbi is pegged to the dollar, and the dollar this year has appreciated against other currencies, the renminbi is overvalued:
The renminbi on Monday was at about the same exchange rate versus the dollar that it was in mid-December. But in that time, the dollar index was up 8.7 percent, meaning the dollar — and by extension the renminbi — was up that much against other advanced nations’ currencies, like the euro, the yen and the British pound.
And 2) China is making a play for the renminbi to be included in the basket of global reserve currencies:
China is looking to assert more of a leadership role in the global economy, and an important piece of that is establishing the renminbi as a reserve currency. The dollar and the euro have a reach and a usefulness far beyond the borders of the countries that use them, and China would like the renminbi to have a similar sway in global trade and finance, especially in Asia.
But you can’t really be a global reserve currency when you maintain all the restrictions that China insists on in the interest of keeping control of its domestic economy. The dollar wouldn’t play its central role in global finance if the American government made it illegal to exchange it for other currencies in many circumstances or used legal prohibitions and aggressive interventions to keep its value from fluctuating in response to market forces. 
In other words, China has wanted some of the diplomatic benefits it would gain if the renminbi became a more important currency abroad, without paying the price at home. 
Just last week, the International Monetary Fund said that the renminbi was not quite ready for inclusion in the basket of currencies the I.M.F. uses for “special drawing rights,” a reserve asset that currently is a mix of dollars, euros, yen and pounds. Christine Lagarde, the organization’s managing director, said China needed to make its currency more “freely usable.” And the policy change on Tuesday, by moving closer to a world in which markets determine its price, is a step in that direction.
What is being touted by some as proof of rot in the Chinese economy could actually be the moment when U.S. dollar hegemony begins its end.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

U.S.-Russia Deal on Syria Takes Shape

Anne Barnard, back in Beirut after her sojourn in Baghdad, reports on a flurry of Russian-led negotiations on the war in Syria, "New Diplomacy Seen on U.S.-Russian Efforts to End Syrian Civil War":
Russia has played the most prominent public role so far in the new diplomacy. Some analysts say that the discussion reflects a softening of the Obama administration’s long-held position that “Assad must go,” and a fear, shared with Russia, that the Islamic State could be the primary beneficiary if Mr. Assad’s government continues to weaken, as they expect, or even to collapse entirely, which they view as less likely but increasingly possible.
The Syrian government has been jarred by a series of defeats on the battlefield and difficulty recruiting for its forces, even among members of Mr. Assad’s minority Alawite sect. Having lost large sections of the country to the Islamic State and various rebel forces, it is concentrating its remaining military strength in the capital, Damascus, and other crucial cities in western Syria.
Mr. Assad’s opponents, too, have reason to reassess strategy; American efforts to build a proxy force in Syria have largely failed, insurgent groups have their own attrition problems, and Saudi Arabia and Turkey face political and security blowback at home.
As the military situation continues to deteriorate, the major powers are growing increasingly nervous. Emile Hokayem, a Middle East analyst with the International Institute for Strategic Studies and a vociferous critic of Mr. Assad, said the United States was letting Russia take the lead because “they don’t want to own this.” If anything, Mr. Hokayem added, “it’s the United States that has moved closer to Russia’s position” that Mr. Assad could be part of the transitional government that is the stated goal of any negotiations.
Regional news outlets have attributed the outburst of diplomatic activity to the aftermath of the tentative nuclear deal with Iran, which has “has thrown a great stone into the region’s waters,” as the Jordanian newspaper Al Ghad put it. The pan-Arab daily Rai al-Youm went so far as to declare that “a political resolution is taking shape with notable speed.” 
But analysts in the region, across the political spectrum, strongly caution that no breakthroughs can be expected soon. Fundamental disconnects remain, and in the diplomatic dance, each side claims that its adversaries are coming around to its point of view.
I put in bold the last paragraph because these diplomatic flurries on Syria are periodic, and they follow the same general pattern. The U.S. is said to realize that only ISIS will benefit from a collapse of the Baathist Syrian state, while Russia is said to accept that Assad might have to vacate the seat of government. Then the war continues.

What seems to be different now is that Turkey, in blowback from the war in Syria, has shredded its ceasefire with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and is now engaged in a civil war of its own.

An excellent article by Rukmini Callimachi ("Inside Syria: Kurds Roll Back ISIS, but Alliances Are Strained") that appeared on Monday clearly shows that the Marxist Kurds working in concert with U.S. air power have figured out how to beat the Salafist jihadis. Fearing that the Syrian Kurd People's Protection Units (YPG) would completely roll back ISIS and control the territory along the Turkish border from Aleppo to the border with Iraq, Turkey cut a deal with the U.S. to enter the war against ISIS. What this really was was a declaration of war against the PKK.

What also appears to be different this go-round is the realization that any additional setbacks for the Syrian government will translate into more refugees fleeing to Europe. Barnard acknowledges this when she says, "What is nonetheless taking place internationally is a shift in tone, a sense of movement below the surface. That alone is notable in a context of divides that can seem unbridgeable, after four and a half years of fighting that has killed at least a quarter-million people and driven the worst refugee crisis in a generation."

Based on a reading of the Saudi press, Barnard provides the contours of what a deal on Syria might look like:
The pro-government newspaper Al Watan noted that at last week’s three-way meeting in Qatar, Secretary of State John Kerry did not repeat the American demand that Mr. Assad step aside. He declared only that the Syrian leader had “lost his legitimacy.” 
And even the Saudi newspaper Al Watan — no connection to the Syrian one — used a notable phrase, saying that while Mr. Assad’s government was to blame for Syria’s troubles, a solution could come “ either by reforming it, or by removing it immediately, or in stages.” 
Such shifts have driven an emerging theory about the outlines of an eventual compromise — albeit one that could take years to achieve. 
The gist is that a new government would be formed including elements of the current government — perhaps including Mr. Assad for a finite period — and moderate Syrian opposition figures. The army would absorb some insurgents from relatively moderate groups. Alawites and majority Sunnis would both be represented.
Then, as the Syrian analyst Ibrahim Hamidi put it in the Saudi-owned pan-Arab newspaper Al Hayat, “the government and army will have the necessary political legitimacy and sectarian representation to ‘unite against terrorism.’ ”
That scenario fits in with a plan that Iran put forward amid last week’s flurry of meetings, calling for an immediate cease-fire, the formation of a national unity government, a constitutional amendment guaranteeing the rights of all Syria’s ethnic and religious groups, and internationally supervised elections.
Does this stop the fighting? Highly doubtful. As we see in the case of Afghanistan where the Taliban leadership is cosseted in Quetta by the Pakistani state, fighting will rage on year in and year out. But what such a deal would likely accomplish is the prevention of Damascus' fall and the resulting massive increase in an already massive influx of refugees to Europe. Something worth bargaining over.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Watts Rebellion: Has Trump Figured Out a Reboot of White Backlash Fifty Years On?

Today is the fiftieth anniversary of the Watts rebellion. Usually referred to as the "Watts riots," in terms of importance the uprising in Watts over six days in August of 1965 is on a level with the Whiskey Insurrection or the Haymarket affair, if not more so.

Watts is where the civil rights movement ran aground in the 1960s, black nationalism became au courant and white backlash as the main political force in the country took hold. The politics of Negrophobia, as articulated in Kevin Phillips' seminal The Emerging Republican Majority (1969), recreated the Republic Party, helped elect Ronald Reagan and enshrined neoliberalism as the decades-long paradigm governing the Western world.

There is a decent opinion piece by Jeanne Theoharis, "50 Years Later, We Still Haven’t Learned From Watts," in today's paper which reminds us that racism is not confined to the criminal justice system; rather, it pervades the entire society, thereby maintaining the persistent underdevelopment of black communities that make uprisings in Baltimore and Ferguson inevitable.
The refusal to recognize the black freedom struggle pre-Watts became a way to avoid responsibility for an unjust, unequal city, long highlighted by black Angelenos, and an excuse to demonize them for the outpouring of anger during the uprising.
A similar framing exists today. While recent uprisings in Ferguson, Cleveland and Baltimore have prompted extensive reporting on injustice in law enforcement, municipal policy and the courts, few stories have focused on the groups and people in these cities that have been highlighting these problems for years. 
Such silences are comfortable. It is easier to cast people as “thugs” than to grapple with the ways we as a society haven’t listened and wouldn’t change. It is easier to frame the situation as regrettable but outside our control (the actions of certain bad cops) than to grapple with our responsibility in maintaining an unjust criminal justice system. In doing so, we cast these tragedies as discrete incidents — and escape our larger social responsibility.
This conclusion while not explicitly stated is perfunctorily limned in Jennifer Medina's frontpager, "Watts, 50 Years On, Stands in Contrast to Today’s Conflicts." The jaw-dropper that Medina delivers is that Watts in now 70% Latino:
This is not the same Watts their parents grew up in. While the area remains persistently poor, demographics have transformed it from an African-American enclave to a neighborhood that is more than 70 percent Latino. Many blacks have moved to the suburbs in the Inland Empire and the desert north of Los Angeles. Those changes have brought their own tensions; many black residents talk of feeling pushed out while Latinos have struggled to rise to political leadership.
One glaring blind spot in Kevin Phillips' otherwise downright oracular The Emerging Republican Majority is his failure to foresee the rise of the Latino voter. Latinos now dictate presidential elections in the United States. No Republican can win the White House polling 30% of the Hispanic vote (Mitt Romney won 27%). That is why there was a collective gasp of horror in the corporate suites of the Republican National Committee when Trump kicked off his presidential campaign by tagging Mexican immigrants rapists.

Say what you will about Trump, it should be apparent by now to everyone who follows politics that he has got game. Republicans even with Marco Rubio as the nominee are unlikely to win more than 35% of Latino voters. So Trump immediately attacked them in a bid to coalesce the white working class, ever jealous of its rapidly disappearing prerogatives, around his candidacy, not to mention a number of blacks as well. (Blacks, to risk an overly broad generalization, tend not to be huge fans of Mexican immigrants.) Laura Ingraham promptly declared Trump's anti-immigrant rhetoric the coup de main of the GOP contest to date.

What this means in a general election campaign if Trump is the eventual nominee is difficult to suss out. Hillary says she is relying on a strategy of returning the Obama coalition to the polls. The Obama coalition path to victory is juiced turnout among blacks, Latinos, women and youth. Hillary cannot do this. Even if she is paired up against The Donald, I don't see her arousing much enthusiasm among Hispanics; on the other hand, I do see Trump cutting into black support for the Democratic ticket.

Maybe Trump has figured a way to reboot white backlash fifty years after the Watts rebellion.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Black Lives Matter Creates a Stir in Seattle

The hubbub in the Emerald City over the weekend was the disruption of a Bernie Sanders campaign rally at Westlake Mall by Black Lives Matter activists. I had gone to bed early Saturday evening because I had a 10K to run early the next day. I was in a deep sleep dreaming about tracking dirty slushy snow on the expensive carpets of a rich man's home when I awoke to the sound of knocking at my door. The knocking repeated itself several times. Concerned that it might be the building super with an issue having to do with the new kitchen plumbing that had just been installed in my apartment, I lumbered out of bed and opened the door.

No one was there. But then my downstairs neighbor suddenly appeared. She is a friend, a retiree, whom I have known for years. She and my next-door neighbors were either on their way to or returning from Sanders' appearance at the University of Washington. She handed me a book -- Bernie Sanders' The Speech: A Historic Filibuster on Corporate Greed and the Decline of Our Middle Class (2011). I was disoriented with drool on my chin. I apologized for my state and thanked her for the book. She apologized for waking me. Then she was off, and I went back to bed.

The next morning I left the apartment early, 6:30 AM, to run that race. Stuck on my front door was this post card from my neighbor:

So she had been to the Westlake event and was upset by the Black Lives Matter activists commandeering the microphone and hijacking Sanders' appearance. I understand that. My first reaction was that it was a provocation or dirty trick orchestrated by the Clinton campaign. What better way to guarantee that Sanders cannot broaden his appeal to blacks and Latinos than by driving a wedge between the white liberals and progressives that are flocking by the thousands to see Sanders as he tours the country?

But the important thing to do here is not to react. Read the statement that was posted to Black Lives Matter Seattle:
PRESS RELEASE: Black Lives Matter Seattle ‪#‎BowDownBernie‬ Action 
MEDIA CONTACTS: Marissa Johnson (360) 840-6234 
Black Lives Matter Seattle organizers and supporters take over Bernie Sanders’ rally at Westlake on Saturday, August 8, 2015. 
Today BLM Seattle, with the support of other Black organizers and non-Black allies and accomplices, held Bernie Sanders publicly accountable for his lack of support for the Black Lives Matter movement and his blatantly silencing response to the ‪#‎SayHerName‬ ‪#‎IfIDieInPoliceCustody‬ action that took place at Netroots this year. 
Bernie’s arrival in Seattle is largely significant in the context of the state of emergency Black lives are in locally as well as across America. The Seattle Police Department has been under federal consent decree for the last three years and has been continually plagued by use-of-force violations and racist scandals amongst their rank and file. Seattle Mayor Ed Murray has refused to push any reform measures for police accountability, not even the numerous recommendations of his self-appointed Community Police Commission. The Seattle School District suspends Black students at a rate six times higher than their white counterparts, feeding Black children into the school-to-prison pipeline. King County has fought hard to push through a plan to build a $210 million new youth jail to imprison these children, amid intense community criticism and dissent. The Central District, a historically Black neighborhood in Seattle, has undergone rapid gentrification over the past few decades, with Black people being displaced from the only neighborhood that we could legally live in until just years ago. While white men profit off of the legalization of marijuana, our prisons are still filled with Black people who are over-incarcerated for drug offenses. 
This city is filled with white progressives, which is why Bernie Sanders’ camp was obviously expecting a friendly and consenting audience for today’s campaign visit. The problem with Sanders’, and with white Seattle progressives in general, is that they are utterly and totally useless (when not outright harmful) in terms of the fight for Black lives. While we are drowning in their liberal rhetoric, we have yet to see them support Black grassroots movements or take on any measure of risk and responsibility for ending the tyranny of white supremacy in our country and in our city. This willful passivity while claiming solidarity with the ‪#‎BlackLivesMatter‬ movement in an effort to be relevant is over. White progressive Seattle and Bernie Sanders cannot call themselves liberals while they participate in the racist system that claims Black lives. Bernie Sanders will not continue to call himself a man of the people, while ignoring the plight of Black people. Presidential candidates will not win Black votes without putting out an explicit criminal justice reform package. As was said at the Netroots action, presidential candidates should expect to be shut down and confronted every step along the way of this presidential campaign. Black people are in a state of emergency. Lines have been drawn in the sand. You are either fighting continuously and measurably to protect Black life in America, or you are a part of the white supremacist system that we will tear down in the liberation of our people. 
On this, nearly the one year anniversary of the ruthless murder of Mike Brown, we honor Black lives lost by doing the unthinkable, the unapologetic, and the unrespectable. Out of radical love for our Black brothers and sisters, we put our lives and our bodies on the line to testify to their persecution and resilience. We join together in Black love to #SayHerName and declare that #BlackLivesMatter, understanding that our love will disrupt the complicity and corruption of our anti-Black society; GOP, Democrat, and otherwise. 
There is no business as usual while Black lives are lost. We will ensure this by any means necessary. 
With the strength of our ancestors and for the future of our children, 
Black Lives Matter Seattle Co-Founders 
Marissa Johnson and Mara Willaford
What they say is true. Now my hope is that they would continue their confrontations by going after other campaigns, such as Hillary's. If all they do is hector Bernie Sanders, then clearly the end result is a provocation that benefits other candidacies. Eric Garner's daughter, Erica, speaking yesterday at the anniversary of Mike Brown's killing, justified the shutdown of the Sanders event:
Erica Garner, the daughter of Eric Garner, applauded the activists who climbed on stage with the Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and demanded an opportunity to talk about police killings during an event in Seattle on Saturday. Mr. Sanders left the event without addressing the crowd. 
“We got to hold our elected officials accountable,” Ms. Garner said. “If he’s not going to talk about our issues, he shouldn’t talk at all.”
But Sanders can't be the only elected official targeted; if so, then Black Lives Matter is just doing the dirty work of the mainstream frontrunners.

When I was active in the Nader-era Green Party, we were criticized all the time for not being a viable progressive movement because we had no black support. Somehow -- and this is the absurdity -- the Democratic Party was more progressive because it had the overwhelming allegiance of blacks. This is poppycock. But the same skewed logic is being applied to the Sanders campaign. This is from an otherwise complimentary piece by Adam Nagourney, "Similarities Aside, Bernie Sanders Isn’t Rerunning Howard Dean’s 2004 Race":
And while there are similarities in the crowds both men draw — overwhelmingly white, for the most part liberal activists — this is not the Democratic Party Mr. Dean was seeking to lead in 2004. The party is younger and more ethnically diverse now, in a way that Mr. Sanders’s crowds are not. The liberal wing of the party, or what Mr. Dean liked to call the “Democratic wing of the Democratic Party,” has undergone its own maturation over the years, its ambitions readjusted after it watched Mr. Dean lose and President Obama turn out to be something short of an unfaltering ideological ally. 
“Sanders gives me a sense of déjà vu, not just the level of excitement that he generates among people who desperately want an alternative to the establishment status quo, but also the irrational cherry-picking of news to convince themselves that victory is just around the corner,” said Markos Moulitsas, the founder of the liberal blog Daily Kos and the organizer of the first Netroots Nation convention, as it came to be known. 
“I was knee-deep in the Dean movement, so I remember those big exciting crowds, but I also remember ignoring the fact that they were almost exclusively made up of young, white, fairly affluent and educated people,” Mr. Moulitsas said. “And Sanders’s are no different, ill reflecting a modern Democratic Party that is at least 40 percent minority and overwhelmingly female.” 
In Seattle on Saturday, Mr. Sanders was confronted by protesters from the Black Lives Matter movement who climbed onstage and demanded an opportunity to talk about police brutality and to note the anniversary of the fatal shooting by a white police officer of Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old black man, in Ferguson, Mo. Mr. Sanders stepped aside and finally left the event without addressing the crowd. 
Yet Mr. Sanders’s appeal shows no sign of fading. And in a sign of self-confidence — and a tribute to Mr. Dean’s signature argument, when he was chairman of the Democratic National Committee, that the party had to compete in all 50 states — Mr. Sanders is campaigning in such unlikely Democratic states as Louisiana and Texas. It appears to be working: He walked out to a rally in Arizona to find 11,000 people waiting to hear him on a Saturday night.
The important takeaway here is that Sanders, for all his lily whiteness and his passive militarism, is not going to go away. His crowds are the most substantial of any presidential candidate. Sanders, as his book The Speech makes clear, is addressing the most salient political issue of our times and that is the complete capture of the government by a destructive oligarchic elite.

But Black Lives Matter is not going anywhere either. Let's hope an accommodation is reached between the two.