Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Carter Doctrine, Polestar of U.S. Hegemony, is Disintegrating

The reverse side of the neoliberal coin is neoconservatism. Both neoliberalism and neoconservatism got their start in the early 1970s, and by the time of the Carter presidency they had locked in as an essential part of the U.S. body politic.

A neoconservative hallmark is the Carter Doctrine. The Carter Doctrine states that the U.S. will unilaterally use military force to protect its interests in the Persian Gulf.

Though written by Carter's National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinki, a famous practitioner of realpolitik, it has been the true north of every Democratic and Republican administration for the last 35 years.

The Carter Doctrine was formulated in response to the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan, purportedly to counter Soviet hegemony in the region.

Well, we've come full circle (Neil MacFarquhar, "Russian Pilots Launch First Airstrikes in Syria, Officials Say").

The United States failed experiment in Afghanistan is approaching a flatline. Kunduz, the city, finally fell to the Taliban on Monday (Joseph Goldstein and Mujib Mashal, "Taliban Fighters Capture Kunduz City as Afghan Forces Retreat"). But the surrounding province of Kunduz has been under the control of the Taliban for most of the year. So the city falling should come as no surprise.

The story developing is that the Taliban victory in Kunduz seems to have been well plotted. The Afghan government, guided by it U.S. minders, have not been able to retake the city because of Taliban offensives in adjoining provinces. This is from Joseph Goldstein and Mujib Mashal, "Afghan Crisis Grows as Push to Retake Kunduz From Taliban Fails":
After more than a day of relative silence as the situation worsened around Kunduz, the American military showed the first signs of increased involvement in what the Pentagon called “a setback,” conducting at least two airstrikes, and reportedly more as attacks continued at the airport late Tuesday.

Beyond the Taliban’s gains in Kunduz, there was evidence that the insurgents were also pushing a broader offensive in northern Afghanistan, officials said. One particular point of concern was Takhar Province, just east of Kunduz, where the insurgents were said to be heavily assaulting military checkpoints and government facilities in several districts over the past two days.
And this from a breaking story this morning (Joseph Goldstein, "U.S. Strikes Taliban-Held Land Near Kunduz Airport as Afghan Crisis Deepens"):
KABUL, Afghanistan — American warplanes bombarded Taliban-held territory around the Kunduz airport overnight, and Afghan officials said American Special Forces were rushed toward the fighting. But by Wednesday morning, the crisis in northern Afghanistan had deepened, as the Taliban continued to surge outward from Kunduz, the major city that the militants captured on Monday. 
The militants claimed critical stretches of highway and continued to threaten the area around the airport, where hundreds of Afghan soldiers and civilians have been holed up since the city fell
Over the past three days, the Taliban have achieved what appears to be their largest military victory in a war that has gone on for more than a decade. Not only have insurgent forces captured a city of about 300,000 people — the first urban center the Taliban has held since 2001but as the reeling Afghan government struggles to respond, it has become clear that not only Kunduz but a large chunk of Afghanistan’s north is at stake.
In Baghlan Province south of Kunduz, Afghan reinforcements on their way to the city have been delayed or stopped altogether amid Taliban ambushes along the main highway. It appeared on Wednesday that before the Afghan government could launch a significant counteroffensive in Kunduz, it would first need to reclaim some of Baghlan.
Reinforcements in large numbers “will not be able to reach Kunduz without a big fight,” said Ted Callahan, a Western security adviser based in northeastern Afghanistan.
Abdul Shaker Urfani, a member of a community council in a northern part of Baghlan, said that more than 1,000 Afghan soldiers and police officers were stuck in the province. They were trying to reach Kunduz, “but they can’t break the Taliban resistance,” Mr. Urfani said.
So much for Obama's ballyhooed "end of U.S. combat operations" in Afghanistan. With superior Taliban planning -- quite a feather in the embattled Mullah Akhtar Mansour's turban -- it appears the north has been lost to the government of Ashraf Ghani, which today marks its one-year anniversary.

Obama has been a profound failure. Back in the heady days following his first landslide election, when I still believed in the illusion that he was a politician who was going to transform the system, in the back of my mind was the shadow that what we had here was another Jimmy Carter.

As it turns out that doubt was indeed prescient. Obama is a two-term Jimmy Carter who will usher in a Trump instead of a Reagan, at the same time as the temple of U.S. unipolar hegemony (i.e., the Carter Doctrine) comes crashing down.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Obama's Old, Tired Lies about Syria: Crack Up for U.S. and EU is Coming

For weeks an Obama-Putin meeting at the United Nations General Assembly has been written about as a possible turning point in efforts to bring an end to the war in Syria. This morning the official appraisal ("Obama and Putin Clash at U.N. Over Syria Crisis," Michael Gordon and Gardiner Harris) is that the conflict will grind on. The meeting between Putin and Obama is being written off as a failure due to intransigent Russian support for Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad.

Obscured in all the mainstream news analysis and prevaricating Obama administration talking points is the absurdity of the U.S. position.

The talking points circulated to rebut Putin's defense, that Assad is engaged in an existential battle against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, are found in an unsigned Gray Lady editorial, "Putin and Obama Have Profound Differences on Syria":
Mr. Putin said it was “an enormous mistake to refuse to cooperate with the Syrian government and its armed forces, who are valiantly fighting terrorism face-to-face,” conveniently ignoring the fact that Mr. Assad’s main target has always been his domestic opposition, not the Islamic State. He portrayed Mr. Assad as a force for stability and said the only solution “is to restore their statehood where it has been destroyed.” 
Mr. Obama correctly argued that in 2011 Mr. Assad “reacted to peaceful protests by escalating repression and killing that, in turn, created the environment for the current strife,” which the Islamic State has been able to exploit. He said Mr. Assad and his allies “cannot simply pacify the broad majority of a population who have been brutalized by chemical weapons and indiscriminate bombing,” and Mr. Obama reiterated his call for a “managed transition” away from Mr. Assad to a more inclusive government.
This in a nutshell is the U.S. case for prolonging the war in Syria, and it is entirely false.

For starters, the idea that everything -- all the mayhem and violence is Assad's fault; that the Syrian president is constantly engaged in attacking his own peaceful people -- this is pure propaganda discredited years ago; it has been rejected by no less an official authority than vice president Joe Biden. This is from an excellent analysis piece by Robert Parry, "Will US Grasp Putin’s Syria Lifeline?"
On Oct. 2, 2014, Vice President Joe Biden let more of the cat out of the bag when he told an audience at Harvard’s Kennedy School: “our allies in the region were our largest problem in Syria … the Saudis, the emirates, etc., what were they doing? They were so determined to take down Assad and essentially have a proxy Sunni-Shia war, what did they do? They poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens of thousands of tons of military weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad, except the people who were being supplied were Al Nusra and Al Qaeda and the extremist elements of jihadis coming from other parts of the world.” [Quote at 53:20 of clip.]
The idea that Assad is not primarily attacking Islamic State fighters but "his domestic opposition" leaves unspecified that the "domestic opposition" is nonetheless Salafist jihadis fighting under one Sunni Islamist banner or another, whether it is Al Qaeda or Ahrar al-Sham. Last year Obama himself refuted this myth of a domestic opposition:
“This idea that we could provide some light arms or even more sophisticated arms to what was essentially an opposition made up of former doctors, farmers, pharmacists and so forth, and that they were going to be able to battle not only a well-armed state but also a well-armed state backed by Russia, backed by Iran, a battle-hardened Hezbollah, that was never in the cards,” Obama said.
Obama was commenting about the beginning of the Syrian conflict, the time of the Arab Spring uprising in 2011. From the outset the decision was made to go with foreign fighters recruited by the Wahhabi networks of the Gulf Cooperation Council. In other words, there is no "domestic opposition" that can project power on the ground in Syria; hence, there are no partners for a transitional phase of government. Salafis only believe in a caliphate. So it is the Syrian Arab Republican or no civil government at all.

Obama's claim of chemical-weapons use by the Syrian government is another widely discredited claim that taps propaganda that has failed to keep up with events reported in even the mainstream press; for instance, that "Islamic State Ordnance Shows Traces of Chemical Agents, U.S. Says."

What is going on here I believe is apparent. In order to win Saudi and Israeli acquiescence to the Iranian nuclear deal, Obama promised not to relent when it came to Assad's ouster. Also, Obama agreed to back to the hilt the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia's genocidal war in Yemen.

The Saudis and Israelis agreed to the bargain because they believe that if Syria and Iraq remain broken and plagued by jihadis, eventually Iran will crater. Russia checked the move by positioning heavy weapons and air power in Latakia.

The U.S. response was never seriously in doubt, and that response did not include a peace deal brokered by Russia. Now what we will see is more war and more refugees. The next huge wave of asylum-seekers is likely to come from Iraq, assuming that the promised offensive to re-take Mosul begins in a few months.

The European Union is going to fracture, and so is the United States. Congress will shut down and Donald Trump is on his was to the White House.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Hard Times in U.S. Aborning: Putin and Trump on 60 Minutes

There is an ample amount of handwringing and "Oh, woeisme"ing among the political class and power brokers on the Potomac following Friday's surprise announcement by Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner that he plans on resigning effective October 30. Take this delightful passage from "John Boehner’s Move Deepens a Republican Chasm" by David Herszenhorn and Jonathan Martin:
The hard-liners seem poised to attack a likely deal this week between Mr. Boehner and Democrats to avoid a government shutdown as yet another example of collusion between establishment Republican leaders and the Obama White House. 
And the legislative stakes will become greater. Congress will most likely have to vote this fall on whether to raise the federal debt ceiling as well as deal with the imminent expiration of many highway programs, a continuing debate over reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank and the need for a longer-term spending bill with an expected deadline of Dec. 11. 
Standing in the Speaker’s Lobby just off the House floor, Representative Bill Pascrell Jr., Democrat of New Jersey, predicted that Mr. Boehner’s departure would make things harder rather than easier. “November and December are going to be like Dante’s ‘Inferno’ around here,” he said.
Things are indeed headed for the cliff. And not just the kind of "fiscal cliff" that Congress and Obama faced after his landslide victory over Richie Rich Romney at the end of 2012. This cliff might be more akin to a helicopter taking off from a besieged Saigon embassy with panicked asylum-seekers clutching for dear life to the skids.

A complete collapse of belief in the official state is underway in the Western world. Whether people position themselves on the left or the right of the ideological spectrum, all agree that the status quo is a fucked up place and elected leadership is not representing the interests of "We the people."

I watched 60 Minutes last night probably for only the second or third time since NBC began televising Sunday Night Foot in the same slot ten years ago. A Charlie Rose interview with Russian President Vladimir Putin, "All eyes on Putin," kicked the show off.

Two of the better exchanges had to do with the principal canard peddled by the United States and dutifully repeated by European leaders; this is the propaganda that Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad is attacking his own people, and that if only Assad would leave everything would start to improve right away.
Charlie Rose: President Assad, you support him. Do you support what he is doing in Syria and what is happening to those Syrian people, those many millions of refugees and the hundreds of thousands of people that have been killed, many by his own force? 
President Putin: Well, tell me, what do you think about those who support the opposition and mainly the terrorist organizations only in order to oust Assad without thinking about what will happen to the country after all the government institutions have been demolished? Today, you have repeatedly said that Assad is fighting against his own population. But look at those who are in control of 60 percent of the territory in Syria. It's controlled by either ISIS or by others-- 
Charlie Rose: Al-Nusra? 
President Putin: --such as al-Nusra and other terrorist organizations. They are recognized as terrorist organizations by the United States, by other states and by the United Nations.
And a little later, this exchange:
Charlie Rose: I come back to the problem that many people look at. And they believe that Assad helps ISIS. That his reprehensible conduct against the Syrian people using barrel bombs and worse is a recruiting tool for ISIS and that if he was removed, transitioned, at some point, it would be better in the fight against ISIS, al-Nusra and others. 
President Putin: Well, speaking in a professional language of intelligence services I can tell you that this kind of assessment is an "active measure" by enemies of Assad. It is anti-Syrian propaganda.
The U.S. game in Iraq and Syria is rapidly unraveling thanks to Russian efforts. The kabuki of the U.S. military combating the Salafist jihadis while those jihadis continue to gain territory and destabilize the region has been exposed by recent Russian moves, such as yesterday's announcement of an intelligence-sharing agreement between Russia, Iran, Iraq and Syria. The U.S. complains about Iraq's participation but there is nothing it can do. The Obama administration has very little credibility on the issue, particularly given the refugee crisis in Europe (not to mention its support for the war crimes against Yemen).

After the Charlie Rose interview of Putin, the next segment was Scott Pelley's interrogation, "Trump gets down to business on 60 Minutes," of the man who is likely the next POTUS, billionaire blowhard Donald Trump.

If you want an introduction to Trump, this interview is an excellent primer. The man is mesmerizing. Listening to him is like riding a roller coaster. The fact some of what he is saying is gibberish will not bother most American voters.

Here is the gibberish passage. He is going to implement a national health-care system that provides universal coverage but that is privately run but is not Obamacare:
Scott Pelley: What's your plan for Obamacare? 
Donald Trump: Obamacare's going to be repealed and replaced. Obamacare is a disaster if you look at what's going on with premiums where they're up 40, 50, 55 percent.
Scott Pelley: How do you fix it?
Donald Trump: There's many different ways, by the way. Everybody's got to be covered. This is an un-Republican thing for me to say because a lot of times they say, "No, no, the lower 25 percent that can't afford private. But--"
Scott Pelley: Universal health care.
Donald Trump: I am going to take care of everybody. I don't care if it costs me votes or not. Everybody's going to be taken care of much better than they're taken care of now.
Scott Pelley: The uninsured person is going to be taken care of. How? How?
Donald Trump: They're going to be taken care of. I would make a deal with existing hospitals to take care of people. And, you know what, if this is probably--
Scott Pelley: Make a deal? Who pays for it?
Donald Trump: --the government's gonna pay for it. But we're going to save so much money on the other side. But for the most it's going to be a private plan and people are going to be able to go out and negotiate great plans with lots of different competition with lots of competitors with great companies and they can have their doctors, they can have plans, they can have everything.
Trump sounded jejune when he weighed in on Iraq and Syria, but almost like Ralph Nader when he talked about the offshoring of U.S. jobs:
Scott Pelley: How do you keep them from exporting American jobs to Mexico?
Donald Trump: Let's say Ford-- let's say Ford moves to Mexico. If they want to sell that car in the United States they pay a tax. Here's what's gonna happen, they're not going to build their plant there. They're going to build it in the United States.
Scott Pelley: But there is a North American Free Trade Agreement.
Donald Trump: And there shouldn't be. It's a disaster.
Scott Pelley: But it is there.
Donald Trump: OK, yeah, but--
Scott Pelley: If you're president, you're going to have to live with it.
Donald Trump: Excuse me, we will either renegotiate it or we will break it. Because, you know, every agreement has an end.
Scott Pelley: You can't just break the law.
Donald Trump: Excuse me, every agreement has an end. Every agreement has to be fair. Every agreement has a defraud clause. We're being defrauded by all these countries.
Scott Pelley: It's called free trade--
Donald Trump: No it's not.
Scott Pelley: --and it is a plank--
Donald Trump: It's not the--
Scott Pelley: --of the Republican platform.
Donald Trump: Scott we need fair trade. Not free trade. We need fair trade. It's gotta be fair.
It is going to be hard to beat Trump.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Hippies vs. Punks: Future's DS2

The fact is that Hippies and Punks have long been absent from the cultural vanguard. Hippies represented the last hurrah of post-WWII prosperity and social democracy. Their contributions to the avant-garde ended in the early 1970s, even prior to the time that the Punks arrived on the scene. When the Punks showed up in a big way in 1976 it was to herald the arrival of the "No Future" paradigm of neoliberalism.

Punk quickly went Post- and splintered; it happened at a time when Hip Hop first appeared. So Hip Hop can make a claim as well to be present at the creation of our current neoliberal paradigm. As the decades have looped by Hip Hop has only grown in stature and relevance, while Punk and Hippie music are merely marginal curiosities.

Future's third studio album, DS2 (Dirty Sprite 2) debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200 charts this summer. If there is a pop cultural avant-garde in the United States now I have absolutely no doubt that its manifesto is Future's DS2.

I have been immersed it all week. All I can say is that it says it all about late-stage neoliberalism: a vacant, joyless celebration of money, drugs, pussy and violence. It's End Times. No doubt about it. Fucking 'em two at a time, dodging bullets, pissing codeine and gobbling Percocet -- "They got blood on their money, and I still count it." Boy, does it sound good. It's Nietzsche after rejecting Schopenhauer's pessimism but somehow fast-forwarded to the doped-up care of his sister Frau Förster.

I was aware of Future at first because living in Seahawks country the news of the off-season was Russell Wilson hooking up with Future's ex-fiance Ciara (and mother of one of his children). There was some social-media kerfuffle when a picture of Seattle's QB pushing Future's son in a perambulator with Ciara at his side went viral. Then I read an excellent piece by Jon Caramanica, "In Atlanta’s Ever-Shifting Hip-Hop Scene, Future and Migos Keep Innovating," and I was intrigued. It seemed to me that what we were dealing with here is a moment when the Owl of Minerva takes flight not at dusk but midday. The Zeitgeist is being revealed in real time. According to Caramanica:
Future is digging into his weird. “DS2” (A1/Freebandz/Epic), his third major-label album, is full of psychedelic angst, girded by Future’s uncanny gift for melody. He’s as singular as ever here, and also more accessible; “DS2” topped the Billboard album chart last week.
Future has already made his concessionary album — “Honest,” released last year, which was widely maligned but wrongly so. Few rappers are as well suited for pop’s melodic tenderness as he is — the album showcased that gift.
That was one version of Future retreating into his feelings. But since then, and especially after his split from the R&B singer Ciara, with whom he has a son, he’s tried another way. Now when he turns inward, his lyrics emerge as a catalog of savage boasts and self-destruction, his sadness made manifest in the severe desiccation in his voice and the digital fog that obscures it. This approach has made for some of the most bracing music of his career, as heard on the three largely outstanding mixtapes he has released in the past nine months: “Monster,” “Beast Mode” and “56 Nights.” (Future has released as many impressive full-length projects as any artist in the 2010s.)
“DS2” isn’t quite as consistent, but it’s exceptional at its peaks. The album’s cold tone is established early, on “Thought It Was a Drought.” “Bitch, I’ma choose the dirty over you/ You know I ain’t scared to lose you,” he raps, later sinking deeper into narcotic haze: “Have these meds on me, I’ma do ’em/ I take these pills and I’m having a thrill.” Much of the album is produced by Metro Boomin, who knows how to make low rumbles feel epic, like on “I Serve the Base,” with its terrifying scrape; the surprisingly warm computer melodies of “Blow a Bag”; the milky “Rotation,” which showcases Future’s phenomenal mumble.
Future’s vocal approach is impressionistic, which means that when it’s ineffective it can feel faint. But it’s also absorptive and affectingly tragic. So much of this album is devoted to drug consumption — “Take me a Xan and I levitate,” “Ain’t no fabrication, I’m on medication/ Cough syrup, I’m infatuated” — that it begins to take on an air of trauma. Even though the album closes with the mayhem-inducing song whose abbreviated title is “Commas,” Future mostly sounds as if he’s gasping for air, and that dangerous place is where his creativity thrives.

My best friend of the last several years has been a young woman, a coworker. She is a black woman, part Latina, part African-American, who has two boys, one in middle school and the other in elementary. She went through a divorce while we worked together. And even though she had a lot of the other women in the office gunning for her because she is attractive and was being rapidly promoted following a change in leadership at the local, she kept it together, showed up to the job everyday and consistently worked hard.

We share a history of being raised in the debris of broken families; that, and we are both fervent Levellers. We did Occupy Seattle stuff together, PAC for our union local, Labor Neighbor, etc. It is rare to meet a person who doesn't harbor tacit attachment to notions of a divine chain of being, who believes that privilege --all types: skin, money, cronyism -- needs to be scrapped. She has the spark.

When I left the local where we worked together to take my present job, she was very generous. As a thank you for her generosity, I bought her a copy of Future's DS2. Before giving it to her yesterday, I had peeled off the cellophane, opened the CD jewel case and loaded it into my iTunes. That's what I have been listening to all week.

When I saw her yesterday, she said that she had been on the road for three-weeks straight and was burnt out; she hadn't seen her sons in almost a month.

My relationship with this young woman -- never sexualized, always supportive and real, never phony -- is one of the only things that I can point to in my recent life and say that it is an unqualified success.

Future's DS2 capture of the Zeitgeist is proof to me that we're coming to an end here.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Former Centcom Official Calls U.S. Goal in Middle East "Perpetual War"

The rebellion of Defense Intelligence Agency analysts at Central Command's MacDill Air Force base in Tampa is an important story because it validates views commonly found in the blogosphere but rarely allowed in the mainstream media. These views, or variants of them, hold that the U.S. is only nominally or cosmetically waging war against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria; that in actuality the U.S. is working with allies Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Israel and others to arm and position foreign jihadis in the region in order to destabilize governments aligned with Iran.

To make the ruse effective it is necessary to create an impression that the fearsome U.S. military is grinding ISIS down. And this is what news consumers in the West have been served since last year, a steady diet of U.S. air power blowing up ISIS jihadis. In reality, all the while the jihadis have been making territorial gains. (The loss of Ramadi was explained away because of a sandstorm or some other nonsense.)

Finally the Centcom analysts cried foul and claimed that their research conclusions were being altered by top brass.

There is a great passage in a story this morning by Mark Mazzetti and Matt Apuzzo "Military Analyst Again Raises Red Flags on Progress in Iraq":
Although critics have suggested that the bombing campaign’s stalemate proves the need for more troops in Iraq, colleagues say Mr. Hooker’s team is not advocating that approach. “I don’t know anyone outside of a political commercial who thinks we need to send large numbers of troops into Iraq,” said one intelligence official who has worked closely with the Centcom analysts. 
Instead, analysts say the dispute centers on whether the military is being honest about the political and religious situation in Iraq and whether a bombing campaign can change it.

“What are the strategic objectives here? There are none. This is just perpetual war,” said David Faulkner, the former targeting director at Centcom who worked alongside the Iraq analysts. “People say: ‘Oh, you’re military. You like that.’ No, we don’t.”

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Xi Jinping Does the Emerald City

Before his powwow with lame duck Obama tomorrow in Washington D.C., Chinese president Xi Jinping is in the Emerald City for a couple of days. Xi arrived at Paine Field in Everett to the welcome of flower-bearing children of a Boeing worker. The big event yesterday, an early dinner at the Westin Hotel in downtown Seattle, was attended by politicos and corporate giants. This is from a story in the Seattle Times by Janet Tu, "In Seattle, Chinese leader vows to join U.S. to fight cybercrime":
The banquet was more than a venue for Xi’s speech: It demonstrated the array of U.S. business and political luminaries with ties to China. 
The head table alone included Bill and Melinda Gates, Gov. Jay Inslee, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, and the chief executives of Microsoft, Boeing and Starbucks — not to mention the CEOs of IBM, DuPont and Ford, three other U.S. governors and U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker.

Jane Perlez, chief diplomatic correspondent in China for the New York Times, describes the logic of Xi's Seattle visit ("Xi Jinping Pledges to Work With U.S. to Stop Cybercrimes") succinctly and accurately:
The Chinese worked hard to front-load Mr. Xi’s trip — his first to the United States as president — with two days of events in Seattle intended to show an upbeat relationship with American business. And in a broad sense it has worked as a show of force to President Obama about the power that China wields, and how much American companies need China even if its policies do not align with Washington’s.
As close as I got to experiencing the Chinese president's visit was the racket made by a helicopter that hovered over downtown in the vicinity of the Westin. When I went out for a post-work four-mile run to absorb the evening sunshine on the last day of summer I felt like Ray Liotta's character at the end of Goodfellas with the helicopter constantly perched over his shoulder.

To get the official position on China one must read today's piece by USG propagandist David Sanger, "Conflict Flavors Obama’s Meeting With Chinese Leader." Writing with Julie Hirschfeld Davis, Sanger pitches the official line like this: The good, decent government officials of the United States thought that when Xi came to power they would have a reasonable interlocutor with whom they could collaborate. Instead they found themselves confronted by a zealous, power-hungry nationalist bent on confrontation wherever he could find it. That's the official line basically. It can be found towards the end of the story:
“This is not the U.S.-China relationship that senior Obama officials expected,” either at the start of Mr. Obama’s tenure in 2009 or the beginning of Mr. Xi’s in 2013, said Michael J. Green, an Asia specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies who served at the National Security Council under President George W. Bush. “The assumptions that many people had, that cooperation on transnational threats like climate change would ameliorate problems in geopolitical arenas, was wrong.”
In her speech on Monday, Ms. Rice [National Security Advisor Susan Rice] made it clear the United States and China would showcase their cooperation on climate change, with a deal on carrying out a broad emissions accord they struck last year during a meeting in Beijing. There will also be agreement on a code of conduct to reduce the risk of accidents between American and Chinese aircraft, and steps to expand educational exchanges between the two countries.
But on the areas of sharpest disagreement, such as human rights, the South China Sea and cyberattacks, there is still a wide gulf, and for weeks the White House has been debating how to handle them.
The South China Sea issue erupted last week in the Senate Armed Services Committee when Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, pressed David Shear, the top Pentagon official in charge of Asia and the Pacific, to declare when the last time was that the United States sent ships or aircraft closer than 12 nautical miles to the newly reclaimed reefs.

Twelve miles is the usual limit for “territorial waters,” so the operation would show that the United States did not consider this to be Beijing’s sovereign land. Reluctantly, Mr. Shear said the last time was in 2012, before Mr. Xi took office.

“The United States of America will sail, fly and operate anywhere that international law permits,” Ms. Rice said during her speech, repeating the administration’s policy on the matter. But one official said Secretary of State John Kerry and his deputies, along with several intelligence officials, did not see the value in forcing the Chinese to react. Others disagree.
“They’re cultivating strategic ambiguity,” Patrick M. Cronin, the director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security, said of the Chinese. “What we need, though, is more clarity about our interests. We have to do more to reinforce rules of the road that are against coercion or force, and against this Chinese buildup.” 
Senator Benjamin L. Cardin of Maryland, the senior Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, said policy makers never anticipated this degree of trouble from Mr. Xi, either on maritime issues or on human rights, a prime area of concern after the Chinese president moved to crack down on dissidents and lawyers and took aim at civil society groups. 
Representatives of an array of those groups met with Ms. Rice at the White House on Tuesday to discuss concerns about China’s proposed legislation to tighten controls on foreign nongovernmental organizations, and senior officials said the topic would be a focus of the meetings between the two presidents. 
“Originally, there was reason for optimism about the speed of change in China” under Mr. Xi, said Mr. Cardin, one of a group of lawmakers set to meet with the Chinese president on Capitol Hill on Friday. “And now there’s sort of disappointment.”
What goes unmentioned in all of this is anything that the United States has done. Since Xi's ascent to the presidency, Obama has staged a coup in Ukraine, launched a new Cold War against Russia, cracked the Middle East apart with its regime-change operation in Syria, and lectured Hong Kong on how to handle the Umbrella Movement protests, not to mention the militarized "pivot to Asia."

The United States under the Peace Prize POTUS has been a rogue elephant on the world stage, blundering and marauding, destroying societies willy-nilly. Now even the European Union shows signs of cracking under the strain.

Chomsky's recent talk at the New School, where he deconstructs right-wing opposition to the Iranian nuclear deal, is illuminating with regards to the U.S. position towards China. Rogue powers do not allow nations to possess a deterrent:

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Castrated Tsipras Triumphs in Greek Elections: Big Win for Neoliberalism

Elections in Greece this past Sunday, despite polls which showed a neck-and-neck race between New Democracy and Syriza, returned Alexis Tsipras as prime minister with basically the same numbers his party posted last January, a time when Syriza was the idol of most of the left in the West.

There are a number of takeaways here. Foremost, certainly neoliberals, who, back in January and February when Tsipras and Varoufakis were strutting their stuff tieless in Brussels and Berlin, counseled that the best possible outcome for all -- creditors and debtors alike -- would be for a young popular new leader like Tsipras to guide his flock into acceptance of austerity and acquiescence to the diktats of the troika, are feeling vindicated.

A sample of this feeling of vindication as registered on high is expressed in a Gray Lady editorial this morning, "Greek Voters Give Alexis Tsipras Another Go as Prime Minister." I quote it in its entirety because we have to give the neoliberal power brokers their due. They ended being spot on about Tsipras. Furthermore, while it is tempting to consign neoliberalism to the dust bin of history as an exhausted paradigm thoroughly discredited as the "dung of the devil" by no less a august personality than Pope Francis, it still has marrow left in its bones.
Eight months after electing a left-wing political outlier, Alexis Tsipras, to reject more austerity, Greek voters have resoundingly re-elected the selfsame Alexis Tsipras, only this time with a mandate to manage austerity. That could prove to be a sage choice. 
Everything depends on how Mr. Tsipras, 41, plays his newly strengthened hand. After fighting fiercely against the harsh measures sought by Greece’s creditors in exchange for another bailout, he finally caved in August. The alternative, basically to abandon the euro currency, was too frightening. That led the hard-liners in Mr. Tsipras’s Syriza party to defect, and persuaded him to call a quick election
That he succeeded in getting roughly the same vote he had in January even after his surrender showed that Greeks believed in him, believed that he had given the negotiations his best shot, and still preferred his Syriza to the old-guard parties that got Greece into the mess it’s in. New Democracy, the party that according to the polls was neck and neck with Syriza, ended up a full seven percentage points behind, while the Syriza defectors, who formed their own party, failed to clear the 3 percent barrier for a single seat in Parliament. 
The good news — a relative concept in a country with very few good options in its future — is that Mr. Tsipras has the mandate and the popular trust to impose the economic measures he agreed to and to pursue the reforms Greece so sorely needs if it is to start reviving its battered economy. New Democracy would support Mr. Tsipras on austerity and reforms, giving him an insurmountable majority in Parliament. 
Mr. Tsipras himself declared that his mandate was “crystal clear” to get rid of the “wickedness and the regime of corruption and intertwined interests” embedded in Greek politics. That’s fine, but Greece also needs deregulation, privatization and further slimming of the bloated public sector, all of which runs counter to Mr. Tsipras’s left-wing ideology. 
The somewhat sardonic view among some of Greece’s creditors is that having Mr. Tsipras in the driver’s seat is still better than having the right-of-center New Democracy there, if only because he would be a far greater obstacle to reform as leader of the opposition. There is some truth to that; it was after he took charge that he realized that the realities of Greece’s [p]light trumped his ideology. 
The creditors — the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund — should now recognize that Mr. Tsipras is not a passing phenomenon, but the leader Greeks have seriously put their faith in. It would be in their best interest to set aside all the antipathy of the past eight months and to encourage him toward the difficult decisions he needs to make by seriously reducing the mountain of debt that is choking Greece. 
Many more trials, and many unknowns, lie ahead for the Greeks. But at least they’ve finally put some faith in a leader. It would be a shame if he and Greece’s creditors failed to take advantage of this trust.
For the left there is both good and bad in the Sunday vote. The good is that Tsipras' win was greatly diminished by it taking place during the lowest turnout election in Greek history. According to Suzanne Daley in "Alexis Tsipras Given a Second Chance by Greek Voters":
Many voters wondered whether, with the bailout deal in place giving huge oversight powers to the creditors, it really made any difference who would govern Greece. In the end, voter turnout was the lowest in Greece’s history, with only 56 percent compared with 63.6 in January.
The bad is that the Left Platform faction of Syriza, the group of lawmakers that split off from Syriza to form their own party, Popular Unity, which advocated for a return to the drachma, so underwhelmed at the polls that they will not even be represented in parliament. Turning to Suzanne Daley's latest dispatch, "Greece’s Leader Starts Big Economic Overhaul":
Perhaps the biggest losers in the election were the breakaway Syriza leftists, who formed their own party, Popular Unity, and campaigned urging a return to the drachma rather than an acceptance of new austerity measures. 
The party got so few votes that it will not even get into Parliament, leaving the former speaker of Parliament, Zoi Konstantopoulou, who is one of the country’s most ardent corruption fighters, on the sidelines.
Tsipras has recast Syriza's mission as one of fighting entrenched oligarchy and its corruption. This will prove to be more a campaign pitch than a reality. For a leader who buckled in negotiations with Brussels, there is little hope that he will be able to transform Greek society. Tsipras parliamentary majority is slimmer this go-round, and while Left Platform is gone, that does not mean that implementing the pension cuts, state asset fire sales and tax increases will be any easier for Syriza MPs to cast "Yea" votes. Daley again from "Greece’s Leader Starts Big Economic Overhaul":
[Tsipras] will need to move quickly, however, to keep the country’s creditors happy and aid flowing. In the next few months, Parliament will have to pass a mountain of legislation, in many cases measures that previous governments found too politically difficult to tackle, including higher taxes on farmers, further cuts to pensions and a stepped-up program to sell government assets. 
This alone will test anew Mr. Tsipras’s now slightly smaller majority in Parliament. But he also has to produce a budget in the next two weeks before Greece’s creditors — the other nations that use the euro, theEuropean Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund — will even consider the long-term debt relief that many experts say Greece needs to get on the road to recovery. 
There is also the need to recapitalize the banks and oversee the unwinding of capital controls.
And if Greece’s financial troubles were not enough, thousands of migrants and refugees are landing here on their way to other parts of Europe. 
Greek voters gave Mr. Tsipras a solid victory, handing him 35.5 percent of the vote and 145 seats in the 300-member Parliament. He quickly announced that he would again form a partnership with the right-wing Independent Greeks party, which won 10 seats. 
Some experts, including Mr. Bastian, said they worried about the sustainability of Syriza’s very slim majority. Past governments watched their majorities shrink over time as unpopular measures came up for votes. In the previous government, Mr. Tsipras’s coalition with the Independent Greeks controlled 162 seats, though more than two dozen of those were rebellious Syriza members on the far left who broke with Mr. Tsipras over the new bailout package. 
“There are still a lot of factions in his party,” Mr. Bastian said, “and it will be hard to keep them all in line.”
Syriza under Tsipras is a cautionary tale. Much like Occupy Wall Street, many of us projected grandiose expectations for the new Greek government. Transformation of the planet-killing neoliberal paradigm seemed to be aborning (before that, a vehicle for many fantasies of rebirth was Obama 2008). But the old, rancid, destructive paradigm keeps rolling on with barely a check on its speed, something to keep in mind as we celebrate Jeremy Corbyn's new leadership of Labour or Bernie Sanders' robust assault on the S.S. Clinton.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Blow Back from Syria Mounting, U.S. Begins About-Face while Insisting on the Righteousness of Its Big Lie

Last Monday I began the week with a few thoughts devoted to what a profound failure Obama has been -- a feckless, brittle nincompoop whose legacy is shaping up to be a new Cold War with Russia.

Today there is proof that perhaps these thoughts are not so alien in the hallways of U.S. hegemony. The New York Times publishes this morning an unsigned editorial, "Mr. Putin’s Mixed Messages on Syria," that amounts to a qualified about-face; qualified because the principal canard, that Assad -- and because Assad has been steadfastly supported by Russia, Putin -- is to blame for the disintegration of Middle East. Nary a word is mentioned about the role of U.S. allies Turkey and nations of the GCC in shuttling foreign jihadis to Syria and Iraq. But the gist of the Gray Lady's message is that an agreement between Russia and the U.S. is necessary to address the crisis in Syria:
The truth is, both men are in a bind. America’s fight against ISIS is failing; a stark indicator was the Pentagon’s admission that its $500 million program to train moderate Syrian opposition forces to fight ISIS has only four or five fighters who are actually on the battlefield. Meanwhile, Mr. Putin’s ally, Mr. Assad, is in danger of falling, which would destroy the last threads holding the state together, open the door to a takeover by the Islamic State and jeopardize Russia’s last foothold in the Middle East. Mr. Obama and Mr. Putin should be able to find common cause in battling the Islamic State, which is destabilizing the region and training a generation of foreign fighters, some of whom have already returned home to Europe, Russia and Central Asia.
The Islamic State cannot be confronted effectively unless there is a political settlement in Syria between Mr. Assad’s regime and opposition forces. The main impediment has been Mr. Putin’s insistence that Mr. Assad remain in power. But Russia previously agreed on the need for a transition in Syria and a compromise seems obvious.
It is interesting how the troubadours of U.S. full-spectrum dominance will insist on the righteous of their propaganda even when it contradicts itself, as the two paragraphs above obviously do. The U.S. position is that the havoc, the refugees flocking to Europe and overrunning Lebanon and Jordan, are Assad's creation, and that if he would only absent himself all would right itself.

But if Assad were to leave, with whom would the remaining Baathists of the Syrian Arab Republic share power? The Pentagon has just spent half-a-billion dollars to train moderates, only four or five of whom are actually on the battlefield. The answer then is that the only meaningful possible partners in a power-sharing deal with the Syrian government would be foreign-backed jihadists, and they don't even believe in secular government.

In other words, the U.S. position, as we have seen time and again, is nonsense; it is an obscene lie.

Another way to approach this issue is by looking at the composition of the refugees flocking to Europe. The majority identify themselves as being Syrian, but there are also Afghans, Libyans, Iraqis, and Albanians from the failed U.S. experiment in Kosovo -- all countries that have been ministered to by the American war machine. What does Putin have to do with Albanians fleeing Kosovo for the northern climes of Germany and Norway? Give the Gray Lady a day or two and she will fabricate some poppycock.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Agent Carter #1

The first noble truth of the comic-book industry is that the cover sells the book. That is certainly the case with Agent Carter #1. When I walked into my neighborhood comic shop Wednesday night my eyes were immediately drawn to Declan Shalvey's art. I pulled it off the shelf and purchased it.

Sadly, the story inside does not live up to Shalvey's cover. Kathryn Immonen, who scripted some interesting material for Journey Into Mystery, teams up her star from that title, Lady Sif, with Margaret "Peggy" Carter, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., for a completely uninspired tale of suspense set aboard a S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier in the north Atlantic.

I'm not a fan of Rich Ellis' art; it gives me at times a Frank Robbins flashback. In my youth there was no greater disappointment than to discover that Frank Robbins had taken over the penciling duties on a comic-book title I was following.

One good thing about Agent Carter #1 is that it continues to paint S.H.I.E.L.D., an obvious stand-in for the gargantuan U.S. national security state, as an amoral, destructive force.

Where would the Marvel Universe be without the calculating, malign Nick Fury?

Also, based on a reading of this comic book, I might give the ABC series, Marvel's Agent Carter a try.

Below are six "action-packed" interior pages. Fury, having recruited Lady Sif as a co-conspirator, has surreptitiously booby-trapped a S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier headed for decommissioning in order to test Agent Carter's crisis-management skills.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Hippies vs. Punks: ALL's Trailblazer

Recorded live at CBGBs during the summer of 1989 -- the same summer and venue I witnessed The Lemonheads perform music off their new album Lick (1989) -- and named after a portable camping commode (featured on the album's cover art), Trailblazer (1990) is my favorite album by the too-little appreciated Pop Hardcore Punk group ALL.

ALL is the band that was formed in the wake of the dissolution of Descendents after Milo Auckerman left the group to pursue a graduate degree in biochemistry. ALL is basically Descendents without Milo. At first Dave Smalley was Milo's replacement; then the able Scott Reynolds (who performs on Trailblazer) took over the lead vocals until leaving the band in 1993 (which is when I stopped buying ALL albums).

I listened to a lot of ALL after the breakup of my marriage and my return to the East Coast. I lived in a studio apartment in the Washington Heights neighborhood. By climbing my fire escape to the roof I could take in a soothing view of the greenbelt of Fort Tryon Park and Inwood Park hugging the Hudson River. Up in that northern tip of Manhattan there were hawk and raccoon. I would run in Fort Tryon and do my shopping at a Korean green grocer on 181st Street. I felt good up there.

Listening to ALL is like listening to the heartbeat of a late 1980s California young man nourished on SST Records. You feel yourself jogging out into the surf and butterflying through the breakers. If you ever want to get a sense of what our youthful sensibilities were at the end of Reagantime, Trailblazer is an excellent document.

The subject matter is the usual one for bubble-gum pop -- girl/boy trouble; but it is treated from a California Hardcore perspective, which is to say with a cynical honesty. So the combination that results -- a pining earnestness matched by withering self-deprecation -- is embracing and novel.

What is also unique about ALL as found here in Trailblazer are the bass and drums of Karl Alvarez and Bill Stevenson, respectively. Athleticism was always an essential, though never explicitly acknowledged, part of the California Hardcore ethos. In Trailblazer, with the sound of the CBGBs mob roaring its approval, one feels almost as if he is listening to a Punk Flashdance.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

The End of Scott Walker's Presidential Aspirations

One achievement that Donald Trump must be granted is his destruction of Wisconsin governor Scott Walker's presidential aspirations.

I took some extra time to peruse the The New York Times/CBS News poll on the presidential race. Besides the usual story lines -- Trump's staying power, Hillary's hemorrhaging -- two takeaways jump out: 1) for the time being, the "Anybody But Trump" camp is cohering around Ben Carson's candidacy, the support of which has jumped amazingly from 6 percent in August to 23 percent in September; and 2) no presidential candidate, excepting Hillary, has seen as precipitous a decline as Scott Walker, who has gone from 10 percent to 2 percent in the same time frame.

At 2 percent, with fall on the way and Trump locked in at the top, a charisma-deprived Walker is finished. He will likely linger on until Iowa; at which point, if he doesn't finish in the top three -- which will be tough with Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz showing more consistent levels of support -- the governor, who made a name for himself by flaying the backs of working people, will drop out.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

War Declared on Trump + U.S. "War on ISIS" Kabuki Exposed

Fall is in the air, and with it a whiff of panic emanating from the power elite. Reality is settling in, and that is the reality of an unbeatable Donald Trump. Now comes the obvious next step -- destroying that reality. As Nicholas Confessore and Alan Rappeport line out in "Donald Trump Is Target of Conservative Ad Campaign," Club for Growth has declared war on Trump:
A deep-pocketed conservative organization with a long list of Republican scalps said on Tuesday that it would launch a major ad campaign aimed at Donald J. Trump in an effort to weaken him among the voters who have made him an unlikely but powerful force in the Republican presidential race. 
The group, Club for Growth, is focusing its considerable firepower first on Iowa, where Mr. Trump has leapt to a significant lead over more conventionally credentialed Republican candidates, panicking Republican leaders. The group will spend $1 million on advertising in the state starting on Thursday, with plans for further spending in the weeks ahead, the club’s president, David M. McIntosh, announced at a news conference in Washington on Tuesday.
“The Club for Growth is committed to seeing this all the way through,” Mr. McIntosh said, explaining that the group would also use mail and online outlets to carry its message and was considering joining with other conservative or Republican groups. “We’ll continue doing it until people realize that Donald Trump is not an economic conservative.” 
The club is employing a two-pronged approach to try to discredit the candidate. It is utilizing Mr. Trump’s previous liberal policy views to argue that his campaign promises are disingenuous. And it is highlighting his use of eminent domain as a developer to suggest that Mr. Trump has a record of hurting middle class Americans to bolster his own business interests.
Of the two-pronged attack, the first prong has already proven a dud. No one cares that Trump has espoused progressives ideas, like a wealth tax, in the past because he advocates somewhat progressive ideas now, like scrapping free-trade agreements that hollow out the manufacturing base of the country. Part of Trump's mass appeal is that he is able to color outside the lines of the established conservative credo.

Prong two of the attack might be different. Going after Trump's sleazy business record is obviously the route to take to bring the Donald down; therein lies a gold mine of chicanery and ruthlessness that will blanche late-arriving true believers to the Trump band wagon.

The problem with the Club for Growth campaign is that there is no one to take up Trump's mantle once he has been driven down in the polls. Both parties are so tainted voters want nothing to do with the establishment candidates:
Representative Tom Cole, a Republican from Oklahoma, has been targeted by the Club for Growth over the years but seemed to welcome their involvement in the presidential race. “They want the Republican nominee that has a philosophy that mirrors their philosophy,” Mr. Cole said in an interview. “When they see someone who is gaining stream who doesn’t share those views, they are going to get involved. “
Mr. Cole observed that Mr. Trump’s rivals for the nomination have been stepping up their attacks against him, but suggested that the traditional Republican establishment might face a struggle trying to stifle Mr. Trump with such a prevailing anti-establishment mood in the air. He said he doubted that a television ad campaign could do much to sway opinions about a marketing master such as Mr. Trump, but that it could help with the group’s own fund-raising.
“The Club for Growth has thousands of people that contribute and believe in it,” he said. “This is like an alarm signal to them.”
Reed Galen, a Republican consultant who worked on John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, said it could take weeks to see any effect out of the ads, and noted that Mr. Trump had a knack for using free media — such as television appearances — to counterattack.
“The club has to spend $1 million,” Mr. Galen said. “Donald goes on ‘Today.’ ” 
The club is also raising money for five other candidates in the nominating contest, each of whom has been eclipsed to some extent by Mr. Trump’s rise: Senators Ted Cruz of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida, Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, and Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor.
The picture of an establishment hopelessly corrupt is again on display (top of the fold, upper left-hand side) as Mark Mazzetti and Matt Apuzzo report in "Analysts Detail Claims That Reports on ISIS Were Distorted":
WASHINGTON — A group of intelligence analysts have provided investigators with documents they say show that senior military officers manipulated the conclusions of reports on the war against the Islamic State, according to several government officials, as lawmakers from both parties voiced growing anger that they may have received a distorted picture about the military campaign’s progress. 
The Pentagon’s inspector general, who is examining the claims, is focusing on senior intelligence officials who supervise dozens of military and civilian analysts at United States Central Command, or Centcom, which oversees American military operations against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Bridget Serchak, a spokeswoman for the Pentagon’s inspector general, confirmed that the investigation is focused on Centcom’s intelligence command. “The investigation will address whether there was any falsification, distortion, delay, suppression or improper modification of intelligence information,” she said in an email on Tuesday.
She added that the inquiry would examine any “personal accountability for any misconduct or failure to follow established processes.”
The New York Times reported last month that the investigation had begun, but the scope of the inquiry and the focus of the allegations were unclear. The officials now say that the analysts at the center of the investigation allege that their superiors within Centcom’s intelligence operation changed conclusions about a number of topics, including the readiness of Iraqi security forces and the success of the bombing campaign in Iraq and Syria.
The revisions presented a more positive picture to the White House, Congress and other intelligence agencies, the officials said.
“The senior intelligence officers are flipping everything on its head,” said one government intelligence analyst, who like others spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly. The analyst said that the complaints involve the highest-ranking officials in Centcom’s intelligence unit, run by Army Maj. Gen. Steven R. Grove.
The question is why? Why make it seem like the war against ISIS is going better than it actually is? My answer is that it is in order to provide cover for the caliphate and allow it to continue to attack Iraq and Syria, two countries aligned with Iran.

The U.S., allied with Turkey and the GCC -- countries that are the prinicipal supporters of the Salafist jihadis who have overrun Iraq and Syria and have created the present refugee crisis in Europe -- has from the outset been committed to the kabuki of a fierce resistance to Islamic State. Unchanged though is the chief goal in the region, particularly now that the nuclear deal with Iran has been finalized and approved, and that is the elimination of Assad from Syria.

This kabuki, meant to obscure the underlying, unchanged goal of regime change, has been a spectacular failure as Europe scraps a main tenet of its union, the Schengen Agreement, by erecting border controls in an attempt to block the mass influx of refugees.

The exposure of Centcom's intelligence falsification will make it a wee bit more difficult to rebuff Putin's planned call for a unified response to terrorism in Syria. A possible meeting between the estranged Putin and Obama at the United Nations has been leaked to the press.

My sense is that Obama has no juice left. His last volley was the Iranian nuclear deal. There might be a cosmetic handshake and a brief powwow at the UN with Vlad. Obama is not going to change course. In fact, part of the price for getting a buy-off on the Iranian nuclear deal from the GCC was a doubling down by the U.S. on regime change in Syria.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Corbyn's Triumph Another Ill Omen for Hillary

Hillary's grave has been dug.

Back at the beginning of May, after Ed Miliband led Labour to a historic defeat in Britain's parliamentary elections, I opined that it augured ill for corporate Democrats in the U.S. At the time, analysts in the mainstream media were trying to spin Cameron's big win as a cautionary tale for Labour moving to the left. Somehow these analysts (I'm thinking here of Steven Erlanger's "Appeal to Dwindling Core Proves Costly for Labour Party in Britain") interpreted Miliband's meekly mouthed promises to roll back some of the egregious aspects of Tory austerity, and Labour's subsequent collapse at the polls, as proof that a leftist attack on neoliberalism was a surefire loser. These analysts failed to account for the incredible showing of the Scottish National Party, a party far to the left of Labour.

Now, this past weekend, Labour has corrected course by shifting hard to the left. Longtime socialist, anti-war firebrand and Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn has been elected leader of the Labour Party. (See top of the post the informative interview with Tariq Ali from yesterday's Democracy Now! for a good intro to Corbyn.) He won thanks in part to a change in rules that broadened the base of who could vote for party leader. Young people overwhelming supported Corbyn and his message of equality, fraternity and an end to foreign wars; he won with 60 percent of the vote over a mishmash of Blairites.

So Labour is starting its journey back to relevance. Rocky will be the road because zombies occupy most positions of power in neoliberal Western society. (Erlanger pitifully reprises his tune from May by arguing that Corbyn's election means a big Tory win in 2020.)

But the canon has sounded and the blast has been heard across the pond. The U.S. and UK are cousins. When neoliberalism drove it piles into the soil 40 years ago it did so with Thatcherism and Reaganism. Markets are always right and unions are insidious special-interest groups and blacks are lazy scofflaws and military might must be exercised frequently (preferably against a powerless opponent). These are some of the tenets of Thatcherism/Reaganism. And I would say that they have largely lost their purchase on the general public.

Hillary as the Democratic banner-waver of the neoliberal consensus has said that her plan to win the White House is based on returning the Obama coalition to the polls. One crucial bloc of the Obama coalition is the youth vote. Youth went overwhelming with Corbyn in the Labour leadership vote. Youth is not going to go for Hillary in any significant number.

Richard Hell said that the truth is in the youth. The youth has rejected neoliberalism and its perpetual wars and inequality. Even if Hillary manages to cart her carcass across the finish line and defeat Sanders in the Democratic primary, Trump's traveling fascist road show will prove far too formidable for a conventional champion of neoliberalism like Rodham Clinton.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Obama's New Cold War with Russia

Weathering a stressful opening Sunday of the National Football League -- in all the games I watched my preferred teams (Seahawks, Ravens, Giants) lost in the final minutes -- I did manage to accomplish some interesting reading. An interview with academic Henry Giroux contained the following question and answer:
Obama is, in your words, “one of the most discredited presidents in the history of USA”. Why? 
HG. With the election of Barack Obama to the presidency, there was a widespread feeling among large sections of the American public and its intellectuals that the moment and threat of authoritarianism had passed. Obama came to office embracing a number of democratic ideals. Not only has he defaulted on those ideals, but he has intensified many of the worse features of the Bush-Cheney years, which were a tipping point for America’s plunge into authoritarianism. He expanded a neoliberal educational policy of high stakes testing and the promotion of charter schools. He imprisoned and deported more Mexican immigrants than any other president. While he has suspended some of the illegalities promoted by the Bush Administration such as CIA black sites and specific torture techniques such as waterboarding, he has gone beyond Bush’s assault on civil liberties through the use of targeted assassinations, the enlargement of drone warfare, and the expansion of the surveillance state. He also renewed the Patriot Act, waged a war on whistle blowers, attempted to prosecute journalists, refused to prosecute government officials who engaged in state torture, and expanded the Military Commissions Act, increased the use of secret courts, and bailed out the big bankers after 2007 while cutting back on social provisions for the vulnerable. The contrast between Obama’s early idealistic rhetoric and his right wing policies will mark him in the future as not merely disingenuous but as a crucial force in the development of an authoritarian society.
What Giroux leaves out is the darkest stain of the Obama years and proof beyond doubt that he is a charlatan who duped voters into believing he was the true peace candidate, and that is the new Cold War with Russia.

Sabrina Tavernise, who began her professional career as a reporter in Russia, returns there to find a populace completely alienated by the United States. In "Why Russians Hate America. Again." Tavernise steps gingerly around the obvious. Russians were shocked that the U.S. would back a neo-Nazi coup on its doorstep.
Anti-Americanism is more potent now because it is stirred up and in many ways sponsored by the state, an effort that Russians, despite their hard-bitten cynicism, seem surprisingly susceptible to. Independent voices are all but gone from Russian television, and most channels now march to the same, slickly produced beat. Virtually any domestic problem, from the ruble’s decline to pensioners’ losing subsidies on public transport, is cast as a geopolitical standoff between Russia and America, and political unrest anywhere is portrayed as having an American State Department official lurking behind it. 
“America wants to destroy us, humiliate us, take our natural resources,” said Lev Gudkov, director of Levada, the polling center, describing the rhetoric, with which he strongly disagrees. “But why? For what? There is no explanation.”
The answer is that the United States has always wanted to destroy the Soviet Union (Russia). It is part of the U.S. DNA. In order to maintain the unipolar world of U.S. full-spectrum dominance, all powers, even regional ones, must be either made subservient or crushed.

This U.S. policy has created the greatest number of displaced persons since World War II. Russia's moves to bolster its military presence in Latakia (Eric Schmitt and Michael Gordon, "Russian Flights Over Iraq and Iran Escalate Tension With U.S.") is essentially a chess move meant to block what was probably a move underway by Turkey and the U.S. to establish a no-go zone in the north around Aleppo.

In the upside-down world of U.S. strategy, supporting the sovereign government of Syria "fuels the conflict." But maintaining both overt and covert regime-change programs which have cracked the region wide open and set refugees fleeing to the safe haven of northern Europe is what?
The Obama administration’s warnings to the Russians were decidedly stark. 
On the same day that the administration approached Iraq and other nations about the Russian flights, Mr. Kerry called Mr. Lavrov and warned the Kremlin not to vastly expand its military support for the Syrian government. Mr. Kerry said it would fuel the conflict and might even lead to an inadvertent confrontation with the American-led coalition that is carrying out airstrikes against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, in Syria, the State Department noted in a statement about the call. 
“It appears now that Assad is worried enough that he’s inviting Russian advisers in and Russian equipment in,” President Obama said in a meeting with troops at Fort Meade, Md., last week. “And that won’t change our core strategy, which is to continue to put pressure on ISIL in Iraq and Syria, but we are going to be engaging Russia to let them know that you can’t continue to double-down on a strategy that’s doomed to failure.”
Just so it is clear: Obama's policy is regime change. But he's calling it a fight against ISIS. And he is warning the Russians against the "doomed to failure" strategy of supporting the Syrian government.

With such craziness more war is a certainty.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Some Unamazing Thoughts on the Beginning of the National Football League Season, Though I Do Manage to Mention Sophocles' Oedipus at Colonus

The National Football League regular season gets underway today. Well, it actually started Thursday when New England's offense got the better of a confused looking Steelers D.

The talk coming out of the game was about Pittsburgh's sideline having the Patriots radio broadcast in the coaching staff's headsets. More allegations of New England's dirty tricks. Apparently it is a common occurrence for the visiting team at Gillette Stadium.

For a diehard Seahawks fan it was a tough way to begin the season: all the flashbacks of Malcolm Butler's Super Bowl interception; the repulsive Bob Kraft in hipster footwear hoisting the Lombardi trophy to the rapturous Foxborough masses; the tight camera shots of handsome Tom Brady; Julian Edelman making catch after catch. It was like sitting down to a several-course meal, and all the plates and bowls set before me were filled with steaming piles of shit.

But this morning hopefully things will turn out to be more appetizing. As a devotee of the Sunday ritual of television gazing, I usual begin each new season with trepidation. The thought is, "Oh, no. Here we go again." Seventeen weeks, plus the playoffs, from the end of summer to the beginning of winter, usually on my mattress on the floor, a newspaper or printout in hand, filled with stress and moments of ecstasy.

Sadly, it is what qualifies as communal activity in our digital age, a time when our political structures have been zombified by neoliberalism; it also connects us to the roots of our Western "civilization." Let us then call it essential activity.

I read a newspaper that features the writings of superb football reporter, Ken Belson; I get Dave Zirin's blog posts in my email inbox; and while I let my sub to Sports Illustrated lapse, I'll still pick up one now and then at the magazine rack of my local grocery store. That being said, I enter this season unprepared. I have followed very little the off-season and preseason developments, for instance, the huge loss of status of commissioner Goodell as a result of Tom Brady's Deflategate triumph in federal court. (I know enough to conclude that it is good for the players; the league office can no longer capriciously discipline individuals.)

The reason for my lack of preparation is the painful way the season ended. The Seahawks should be repeat champions with Marshawn Lynch the MVP of the last Super Bowl. The fact that they are not and the despised, corrupt Patriots are the world champions is a wound that has not healed.

But it makes this season one of incredible drama for Seahawks fans. This is most likely Marshawn Lynch's last year in Seattle. Once Beast Mode goes, the Seahawks will have a completely different personality; it will be a different team. So this is the year that the wound has to be healed. I liken it to Oedipus at Colonus. Can we come to terms with our past failures and be absolved by Zeus?

We'll find out. The morning is appropriately overcast and rainy. I am going to shelve plans for an eight-mile pre-game run and bunker in for the first NFL Sunday.