Friday, January 29, 2016

Hippies vs. Punks: The Lemonheads' Lovey (1990)

In all of Robert Christgau's vast trove of criticism on his excellent web site,, I could find only one review of a Lemonheads record:
Come On Feel [Atlantic, 1993]
Evan Dando is a good-looking guy with more luck than talent and more talent than brains who conceals his narcissism beneath an unassuming suburban drawl. Twenty years ago he would have affected an acoustic guitar and acted sincere; now he affects a slacker-pop band and acts vulnerable. His songs don't bite, they sidle over and nibble your ear when you're not looking, and if you throw him a withering glance, no problem--he'll just move on to someone else. Exception: the one about drugs. C+
Brutally dismissive as it is, and applied to an album that most of us who were Lemonheads fans at the time would freely admit as proof that the band had lost its purpose (the dividing line for Taang!-era Lemonheads devotees like myself was Dando's cover of Simon & Garfunkel's "Mrs. Robinson" on the album that preceded Come on Feel the Lemonheads, 1992's It's a Shame About Ray), it is pretty much how I felt about Lovey (1990), The Lemonheads major-label debut on Atlantic Records, when I started listening to it again this week.

But after only a couple of days, I changed my opinion. There is no indication that Christgau had anything more than a superficial familiarity with Taang! bands such as The Lemonheads, Bullet LaVolta and Moving Targets, bands that were powering the Grunge revolution before it turned into a Grand Barbecue the summer of 1990 when Sonic Youth released Goo on Geffen Records.

What is not readily recalled is that Lovey was released in July shortly after Goo. Considering that it would be another year before major-label honchos would bring Nirvana to market, not to mention Hardcore founding fathers fIREHOSE and Meat Puppets, we have to ask ourselves the question, What did the corporate recording industry power brokers see in The Lemonheads to put them in the same bracket as Sonic Youth?

And here is what I concluded: The Lemonheads were not signed by Atlantic to be the equivalent of a Grunge Bobby Sherman act; if that were the case, the label would not have allowed Dando to make "Ballarat," an homage to Charles Manson's Helter Skelter eschatology, the first cut on Lovey. And while "Ballarat" might not be the equal of Sonic Youth's "Tunic (Song for Karen)," I would argue that it is of a piece (and that is not pretty boy Grunge).

The next clue is that of all the Taang! back catalog songs selected to appear on Lovey it was "Left for Dead," a re-titled "Clang Bang Clang" from Creator (1988), that made the cut; it is a truly great song that points clearly to what Atlantic had planned for The Lemonheads -- a chick-friendly Hüsker Dü.

The fact is that Lovey is loaded with grand gesture Grunge statements like "Li'l Seed" and "(The) Door," both of which are powered by the superb "guitar hero" playing of Corey Loog Brennan, filled out with an uptempo number like "Stove" and a Grunger, "Year of the Cat." As Brennan says in an interview that appears on the English fan web site devoted to Dando and The Lemonheads, "I thought that Lovey was going to sell a million copies. Then I was devastated when it semi-flopped."

But what Lovey did do is turn Dando into a Grunge heartthrob (see the video for "Half the Time" at the top of the post). I can bear witness. In last week's post I described seeing The Lemonheads at CBGBs the summer of 1989 and the only women there were the dates of the record industry guys at the back by the bar. I saw the band again at CBGBs the winter of 1991, seven or eight months after Lovey's release, and rather than being deserted, as it was the time before, the place was packed. So packed that it was difficult to move about. And most of the people at the front near the stage when Dando appeared in a 1960s-era red nylon windbreaker with racing stripes, his beautiful long blonde tresses catching the spotlights, were young middle-class women. The only explanation, given Brennan's assessment that the album semi-flopped, is that video for "Half the Time" found a passionate audience on MTV.

Hence, The Lemonheads coming pop flame-out, casually derided by Christgau as narcissistic, is set in motion by Lovey. Which is too bad because Lovey is an excellent album, one that was important to me and that I played a lot. Hearing it again repeatedly this week -- that and the fact that light is already starting to return at the end of January -- I started to feel not so bad about myself. I realized that at 26 years of age I was a solid householder, but one who nonetheless was hounded by the troika that has felled many a man -- work, women and alcohol. Maybe to become who we are we need to go back and figure out who we were.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

It is Hard to Imagine What Peace with the Taliban would Look Like

Afghanistan is getting a new defense minister. Gen. John Campbell is being replaced by Lt. Gen. John "Mick" Nicholson, who will likely preside over whatever ignominious demise is in store for the Ghani-Abdullah government. Here is the blurb that appears in this morning's Foreign Policy "Situation Report":
Fourteen years of war, and a new General steps up. One place in particular where American special operators have been making headlines is Afghanistan. And the 9,800 U.S. troops there are about to get a new boss. If confirmed by the Senate, Army Lt. Gen. John “Mick” Nicholson will pin on a fourth star and head to Kabul in coming months to replace Gen. John Campbell, who is expected to retire. Nicholson, a veteran of multiple deployments to Afghanistan, is currently commander of NATO’s Allied Land Command in Izmir, Turkey. He’ll also appear before the Senate Armed Services Committee Thursday morning at 9:30 a.m. for a hearing on his nomination. Watch it live here.
Campbell took over the war in the summer of 2014, and was expected to be the general to close up shop on the U.S. and NATO presence in Afghanistan. But after shuttering hundreds of combat outposts across the country and ending the NATO combat mission on Jan. 1, 2015, Afghan security forces have faltered in the face of a consistent Taliban offensive. Despite Washington’s $60 billion investment in the Afghan army and police, Campbell has argued that they need several more years of training and support before they’re ready to stand alone. And now the next general steps up to take over the fight.
To get a sense of the contours of the Taliban offensive, there is David Jolly's "Taliban Sabotage Cuts Major Power Source for Afghanistan Capital." The Taliban blew up a transmission tower in Baghlan, the province next to Kunduz. The Taliban took control of Kunduz City for two weeks in October. Now they are engaged in an offensive in Baghlan.

One of the passages in Jolly's piece that really jumps out at the reader is his description of the Afghan power grid:
Afghanistan suffers from a chronic power shortage, with less than 40 percent of the population even connected to the grid, according to World Bank data. Three-quarters of the country’s electricity is imported from the neighboring countries of Uzbekistan, Iran, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. The long transmission lines leave Kabul vulnerable to outages from sabotage. As a result, backup generators are de rigueur among those who can afford them.
After 14 years of U.S. occupation and hundreds of billions of dollars spent, two-thirds of the country is not connected to the power grid, and 75 percent of its electricity is imported. This tells you more about the failure of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan than the chronically dysfunctional Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police.

Jolly goes on to mention the Taliban offensive in Helmand Province in the country's south. Remember, it is winter, the season when fighting is supposed to wind down:
The unrest in the north is arguably not the worst of the government’s problems at the moment. Helmand Province, in the south, has been under siege for months, and officials say that only the timely dispatch of Afghan and American special forces kept it from completely falling under Taliban control toward the end of 2015.
On Wednesday morning, insurgents attacked a demining team in Nawabad village in the Greshk district of Helmand Province, killing at least three people, said Mohammad Ismail, the district police chief. He said the police quickly scattered the insurgents after a 30-minute gun battle. Had the police not arrived, he said, the insurgents would very likely have killed or kidnapped all of the deminers, employees of the Demining Agency for Afghanistan.
The Chinese are reportedly getting antsy ("China Urging Afghanistan to Restart Peace Talks With Taliban" by Ed Wong; "China Considers Larger Role in Afghanistan Peace Process" by Ed Wong and David Jolly), worried that a collapsed Afghanistan ruled by various Salafist groups would serve as a transmission belt for jihadi Uighurs to destabilize western China's Xinjiang region. Also, as long as Afghanistan remains an oozing ulcer, Xi Jinping's "One Belt, One Road" development plan for Central Asia will be unable to achieve its full potential. One Belt, One Road is vital to China because it is the Dragon's counter to Obama's militarized Asia pivot. Hence, the Chinese are putting pressure on Pakistan to reboot peace talks between the Taliban and the Ghani government.

But what would peace with the Taliban look like? Is such a thing even possible? Would the Taliban agree to serve within a U.S.-created Afghan government? Is partition of the country on the table? It all seems like nonsense, a sentiment basically echoed by U.S. Army Officer Lemar Farhad in "Why Peace with the Taliban Is a Bad Idea: What Needs to Happen Instead":
Pakistan’s view of peace with the Taliban entails the placement of actual, dyed-in-the-wool Taliban ideologues in the ranks of the Afghan civilian and military establishments. This would result in infiltration of Afghan military and civilian cadres, by pro-Wahhabi partisans from Hekmatyar’s Hezbi-Islami and the Haqqani network.
Unfortunately Farhad's solution is pure fantasy:
Establishing sustainable peace in Afghanistan, and the region at large, requires the total and unequivocal neutralization of the Taliban as a viable fighting force. This is because the Taliban and peace are antithetical to each other. Defeat of the Taliban requires a broad based international effort to dissuade the Pakistani government from supporting Taliban action in Afghanistan. The U.S. policy in particular should be geared at rendering Islamabad either incapable of aiding the Taliban or unwilling to do so. Declaring the Taliban as a foreign terrorist organization is the first step. After all, an insurgent force without protected safe-havens, financial institutions, resources, materiel, logistics capabilities, and a host-state will be unable to survive for long.
For this to happen, the United States would have to confront Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Absent a revolution in the homeland, that is not going to happen.

Maybe the best that can be hoped for is a "frozen conflict" a la countries of the former Soviet Union. A set of ceasefires with international monitors.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Geneva III Dies Aborning, Greece to be Sacrificed to Ares

For an excellent snapshot of the stillborn UN-brokered peace process on the war in Syria, which is scheduled to begin this Friday in Geneva, what is being referred to as Geneva III, consult this morning's Reuters story, "Syria Peace Talks Hinge on Envoy's Answers." 

The title of the piece refers to a list of clarifying questions that the handpicked Saudi opposition, which has dubbed itself the High Negotiations Committee (HNC) in an attempt to appear officially legitimate, has submitted to UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura and Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. The questions purportedly have to do with the lifting of sieges on opposition-held territory as a precondition of the peace talks.

The Saudis have no intention of bargaining in good faith. These conditions are an attempt to shift blame for the stillborn Geneva III to the Russians and Syrians. The talks were never going to get off the ground. This became apparent yesterday when de Mistura sent out invitations omitting the Syrian Kurds:
De Mistura's bid to convene the talks has already faced problems, including a dispute over who should represent the opposition. While the Saudi-backed HNC includes powerful rebel factions fighting Assad in western Syria, Russia has been demanding wider participation to include the Syrian Kurds. 
But de Mistura has not invited the Syrian Kurdish PYD party, which is affiliated to the Kurdish YPG militia that controls wide areas of northern and northeastern Syria and has become an important partner in the U.S.-led war on Islamic State.
Turkey, a major sponsor of the rebellion which views the Syrian Kurdish PYD party as a terrorist group, had said it would boycott the talks if had been invited.
Fabius said: "The PYD group was causing the most problems, and Mr de Mistura told me he had not sent them an invitation letter."
The PYD's representative in France, Khaled Eissa, who had been on a list of possible delegates proposed by Russia, blamed regional and international powers, in particular Turkey, for blocking the Kurds and forecast the talks would fail.
"You can't neglect a force that controls an area three times the size of Lebanon," he said. "We will not respect any decision taken without our participation."
One prominent Syrian opposition figure said he would boycott the talks unless the PYD was invited.
"I'll go with my friends or not (at all). There is no compromise in this question," Haytham Manna told Reuters. Manna is co-leader of an opposition group called the Syrian Democratic Council, which includes the PYD and was formed in December in Kurdish-controlled Hasaka province.
Independent Syria dissident Jihad Makdissi said would not attend the initial round of talks in order to help overcome differences over who should represent the opposition.
Not surprisingly, de Mistura's promises of robust participation by women and civil society groups in the peace process have proven hollow. According to Somini Sengupta reporting from Geneva in "An Odd Diplomatic Dance as U.N. Prepares for Syria Peace Talks":
Mr. de Mistura had promised to seek the guidance of women’s groups and civil-society representatives. But none got the mysterious invitations on Tuesday, diplomats said, which galled Mouna Ghanem, a Syrian politician who is not part of either the Russia-backed or Saudi-backed blocs. 
“Just on the doors of Geneva III, majority of men are rushing to negotiate Syrian future,” Ms. Ghanem, coordinator for the Syrian Women Forum for Peace, said in a statement. She called women’s participation “shallow and insignificant.”
De Mistura is dancing to the Saudi fiddler, as is the United States. Or Saudis are dancing to a tune produced at Langley. It is often hard to understand where the U.S. deep state stops and the House of Saud begins, so intertwined are the two. In any event, a couple things are clear at this point: 1) Russian-backed Syrian Arab Army military victories are mounting, and 2) the Saudis and Turks refuse to bargain while their regime-change operation is backpedaling.

Where do the Saudis go from here? The old standby. Terror bombing like the one the other day in the Shiite area of Homs. The Saudis work through multiple proxies, secular and Salafist.

The maintenance of our status quo of perpetual warfare means that Europe will keep its role as escape valve for a disintegrating Middle East. Now that the oft-floated solution to the problem of refugees fleeing perpetual war by bribing Erdogan to warehouse the migrants in Turkey is pretty well accepted to be a public relations gimmick, tossing Greece out the Schengen area seems to be the plan du jour. This from a Reuters story this morning, "EU Gives Greece Warning to Fix Border 'Neglect' ":
BRUSSELS — The EU executive concluded on Wednesday that Greece could face new border controls with other states of the free-travel Schengen zone in May if it does not fix "serious deficiencies" in its management of the area's external frontier. 
"If the necessary action is not being taken and deficiencies persist, there is a possibility to ... allow member states to temporarily close their borders," European Commission Vice President Vice President told a news briefing after the executive accepted a report that Athens had "seriously neglected" its obligations to fellow Schengen states. 
The move is part of a process in which EU governments aim to give them the option of reinstalling controls on their national borders for up to two years, once short-term derogations currently in place expire in May. 
Following the arrival of more than a million irregular migrants in the European Union last year, most of them via Turkey into Greece from where they trekked northward to Germany, other EU member states have instituted emergency controls on their internal Schengen borders and have warned that they might effectively suspend Athens from the passport-free travel zone. 
In practice, Greece has no land borders with the rest of the Schengen zone, so installing new frontier checks would affect only air and sea ports. Diplomats and officials have described the move to penalize tourism-dependent Greece as a means of raising pressure on Athens to implement EU measures intended to identify and register all those arriving from Turkey.
James Kanter had a story ("E.U. Ministers Spar as Bloc’s Promise of Free Movement Wavers") about this move underway in Brussels to penalize Greece for the German-, British- and French-backed Saudi/U.S. war on Syria:
The European Union has been trying to persuade Turkey to take a more active role in resolving the crisis by doing more to look after refugees there and stop them from trying the journey to the European Union. 
Another idea that has gained growing attention is to choke off some of the northward flow of migrants at the border between Greece and Macedonia, potentially leaving huge numbers of migrants in Greece at a time when that country is still recovering from its depression-like downturn. 
On Monday, over lunch at the Dutch National Maritime Museum, the ministers discussed freezing the free movement of people inside parts of the bloc for up to a further two years.
So far, six countries, including Germany and Austria, have suspended the system for a legally permissible period of six months. For Germany and Austria, that six-month period expires in late spring, just as a surge of new arrivals from the Middle East and Africa is expected. 
The ministers also agreed to continue hashing out plans to create a European Border and Coast Guard Agency. 
That plan would double the staff of the current border agency, Frontex, and would create a separate reserve force to be deployed even when a member state rejects help. [!] But some politicians suspect a blunt power grab by Brussels intended to diminish national sovereignty. 
Arriving at the meeting in Amsterdam, the Austrian interior minister, Johanna Mikl-Leitner, warned that “the external Schengen border will move back towards Central Europe” — a thinly veiled threat to exclude Greece from the passport-free area unless Athens acted more forcefully.
Rather than work for peace in the Middle East, Western power brokers will carve up the European Union piecemeal and toss the chunks of flesh on a pyre to Ares.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

More War and Misery Planned for Libya

Now that the Iowa caucus is less than a week away there is plenty of discussion about Hillary's "glass jaw." Depending on which outlet you are imbibing from, Hillary's felonious emailing of classified information is not usually included in those glass jaw discussions, nor is her key role in the creation of an oil-rich failed state on the Mediterranean Sea, Libya.

U.S. SecDef Ash Carter made the rounds in Europe last week drumming up support for a special ops invasion of Libya. The New York Times editorializes this morning in "Opening a New Front Against ISIS in Libya" that
The Pentagon is ramping up intelligence-gathering in Libya as the Obama administration draws up plans to open a third front in the war against the Islamic State. This significant escalation is being planned without a meaningful debate in Congress about the merits and risks of a military campaign that is expected to include airstrikes and raids by elite American troops.
That is deeply troubling. A new military intervention in Libya would represent a significant progression of a war that could easily spread to other countries on the continent. It is being planned as the American military burrows more deeply into battlegrounds in Syria and Iraq, where American ground troops are being asked to play an increasingly hands-on role in the fight.
Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters on Friday that military officials were “looking to take decisive military action” against the Islamic State, or ISIS, in Libya, where Western officials estimate the terrorist group has roughly 3,000 fighters.
Administration officials say the campaign in Libya could begin in a matter of weeks. They anticipate it would be conducted with the help of a handful of European allies, including Britain, France and Italy. The planning is unfolding amid political chaos in Libya, which continues to reel from the aftermath of the 2011 civil war that ended with the killing of the country’s longtime dictator, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. In recent months the United Nations has struggled to persuade two groups of Libyan officials who claim to be the country’s rightful leaders to band together. On Monday, the parliament that is recognized by the international community rejected a unity government proposal brokered by the United Nations.
As Islamic State suffers defeat in Iraq and Syria and the final sieges of Mosul and Raqqa are organized, Libya has become the preferred destination of caliphate leadership. To prevent Libya from becoming an even larger safe haven for Islamic State, the United States, along with select European allies, plans on striking the IS stronghold of Surt. That at least is the story that has been promoted since last week.

The problem, as Kareem Fahim reports in "Libyan Lawmakers Reject U.N.-Backed Unity Government," is that the UN-brokered Libyan unity government, the entity which would invite the U.S.-led military coalition to rid Surt of its rising caliphate, has been rejected by one of the two competing parliaments that rule the country, the Tobruk faction led by Saudi-backed General Khalifa Hifter. The stated reason? The unity government's 32-member cabinet was too large:
The United States and several European countries have said they are preparing for possible military attacks against the Islamic State in Libya — an action that would require the agreement and cooperation of a unified Libyan government.
The country is split between the government in Tobruk and a rival government based in Tripoli, the capital. In December, Libyan officials representing the country’s different factions signed an agreement to form a government of national unity. Last week, as part of the agreement, a presidency council, formed under the United Nations agreement and based in Tunis, proposed the cabinet. Only the Tobruk-based Parliament was required to approve it.
The governing council now has 10 days to propose a government “that should be smaller — reduced to 10 or 12 portfolios,” Mr. Buera said.
In a statement after the cabinet was rejected, the United Nations envoy to Libya, Martin Kobler, urged the Parliament and the presidency council “to take the necessary decisions as soon as possible.”
The Parliament had approved the unity agreement in principle, but it rejected an article that would allow the government to dismiss military leaders, Mr. Buera said. Most prominent among them is Gen. Khalifa Hifter, a divisive figure who has promised to purge Libya of Islamists and leads forces that are closely allied with the eastern government.
The race to consolidate the government comes as the Islamic State has intensified its attacks on Libyan oil facilities to the east of the extremist group’s stronghold in the central city of Surt. Mustafa Sanalla, the head of Libya’s state oil company, said in a statement on Sunday that the group had done “a tremendous amount of damage to the oil industry in the last two weeks.”
“Their objective is to prevent the new government from stabilizing the economy, and unless they are stopped, they might succeed in their aims,” Mr. Sanalla said.
We've seen all this before with the Syrian opposition. The West tries to cobble together a government in a hotel conference room and it always falls apart. There is no reason to believe that Libya will be any different. This doesn't mean that Hifter's demand for a 12-member cabinet won't be granted. After all, the goal here is not a functioning, representative government for Libya but rather some sort of lasting U.S. military footprint there.

Libya is not only a gateway to Europe but to the Sahara as well. Africa is the where the next chapter of the Great Game is being written, and Libya is the apple of the Pentagon's eye. This help explains why Hillary was so gleeful when she talked of Gaddafi's murder. What a prize for the American Imperium.

As in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, there will be no happy ending in Libya. Peace is not something the U.S. is capable of manufacturing, only war and misery.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Tahrir Square and the Arab Spring Five Years Later: Unending War, the End of the EU and the U.S. Deep State Exposed

As Egypt marks the fifth anniversary of the Tahrir Square revolution under the watchful eye of another autocrat, it is important to remember that the Syrian war was initially part of the same Arab Spring uprising. 

If not from the outset, the uprising in Syria was gradually subverted by foreign intelligence services playing the decades-old destructive game of using Islamist proxies to sow chaos. Now, five years later, the result is beyond the wildest of expectations. Not only is the Sykes-Picot Middle East coming unraveled, so too is the European Union. The unsinkable Angela Merkel (see Alison Smale's "Stance on Migrants Leaves Merkel Isolated at Home and in Europe") is confronted within her own party by opponents demanding that she restrict the influx of immigrants from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere. Many countries in Europe have already scrapped the Schengen Agreement that allows for free travel within Europe without border restrictions. Dan Bilefsky and Alison Smale have a helpful if limited summary of some of the European nations that have unilaterally done away with Schengen in "Dozens of Migrants Drown as European Refugee Crisis Continues":
Over the summer, Hungary erected a razor-wire fence on its border with Croatia. This month, Sweden, once one of the most welcoming of nations for refugees, introduced identity checks for travelers arriving from Denmark in an effort to curb their numbers. Austria announced this week that it would limit the number of refugees it takes in this year to 37,500, down from 90,000 in 2015.
France, still operating under an emergency from last November's terror attack, has border restrictions, as, in some form, does Slovenia and Macedonia. Poland has refused to accept any refugees.

Merkel and the EU are banking on Turkey solving the refugee problem. According to Bilefsky and Smale,
Ms. Merkel met on Friday with Turkey’s prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, the latest in a series of discussions between the countries about what more Turkey could do to keep the refugees pouring over its border with Syria from traveling on to Western Europe. Ms. Merkel again promised that the European Union would find 3 billion euros, about $3.2 billion, to assist Turkey in offering work and schooling to more than two million Syrians who have fled there. 
Mr. Davutoglu made no concrete promises in return, making clear that Ankara believes it has leverage in negotiations on the issue with Europeans — like Ms. Merkel — who dragged out European Union membership talks with Turkey in the past, in part because of concern over human rights abuses in Turkey. 
“We are not begging for the E.U. money,” Mr. Davutoglu told the German news agency DPA. “The 3 billion euros are only there to show the political will to share the burden.”
European leaders are fretful because the refugee influx continues this winter. "Almost 37,000 migrants are reported to have arrived in Greece and Italy by sea and land this month, according to the International Organization for Migration, 10 times the number in the same period last year." The concern is that the EU grandees have two months to set up some form of refugee warehousing system in Turkey. By then an overwhelming spring influx will commence.

Peace talks on the war in Syria set to begin today in Geneva have been postponed as expected. Russia  and the Syrian Arab Army have been making gains on the ground, retaking territory from the U.S.-Saudi-backed jihadists. Even though the U.S. has softened its position that Assad has to agree to step down as a precondition of the peace talks, the Saudis have not. So war will rage on. And Angela Merkel is praying that Recep Tayyip Erdoğan can get those refugee warehouses built quickly.

A primer on the deep, longstanding ties between the permanent government of the United States and the House of Saud is explored in a story by Mark Mazzetti and Matt Apuzzo, "U.S. Relies Heavily on Saudi Money to Support Syrian Rebels." It states what we already know, that al-Saud is the ideological twin of the Sunni jihadists against whom we are in a global war. But it is always nice to read it in "the newspaper of record":
And yet the alliance persists, kept afloat on a sea of Saudi money and a recognition of mutual self-interest. In addition to Saudi Arabia’s vast oil reserves and role as the spiritual anchor of the Sunni Muslim world, the long intelligence relationship helps explain why the United States has been reluctant to openly criticize Saudi Arabia for its human rights abuses, its treatment of women and its support for the extreme strain of Islam, Wahhabism, that has inspired many of the very terrorist groups the United States is fighting. The Obama administration did not publicly condemn Saudi Arabia’s beheading this month of a dissident Shiite cleric, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, who had challenged the royal family.
Although the Saudis have been public about their help arming rebel groups in Syria, the extent of their partnership with the C.I.A.’s covert action campaign and their direct financial support had not been disclosed. Details were pieced together in interviews with a half-dozen current and former American officials and sources from several Persian Gulf countries. Most spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the program.
From the moment the C.I.A. operation was started, Saudi money supported it.
While the intelligence alliance is central to the Syria fight and has been important in the war against Al Qaeda, a constant irritant in American-Saudi relations is just how much Saudi citizens continue to support terrorist groups, analysts said. 
“The more that the argument becomes, ‘We need them as a counterterrorism partner,’ the less persuasive it is,” said William McCants, a former State Department counterterrorism adviser and the author of a book on the Islamic State. “If this is purely a conversation about counterterrorism cooperation, and if the Saudis are a big part of the problem in creating terrorism in the first place, then how persuasive of an argument is it?”
An interesting passage in the Mazzetti-Apuzzo piece is the linkage of the special Saudi-U.S. relationship to the circumvention of the post-Watergate, post-"family jewels" crackdown on the intelligence agencies:
The roots of the relationship run deep. In the late 1970s, the Saudis organized what was known as the “Safari Club” — a coalition of nations including Morocco, Egypt and France — that ran covert operations around Africa at a time when Congress had clipped the C.I.A.’s wings over years of abuses.
“And so the kingdom, with these countries, helped in some way, I believe, to keep the world safe at a time when the United States was not able to do that,” Prince Turki al-Faisal, a former head of Saudi intelligence, recalled in a speech at Georgetown University in 2002.
The U.S. deep state, the permanent government that remains regardless of whether the administration is Republican or Democrat, is intimately linked with a despotic, religiously fundamentalist monarchy. That is why there is no hope for peace. Because the only way that the aspirations of the Arab Spring can be rolled back is with force.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Bloomberg Floats Independent Presidential Run Once Again: Growing Acceptance by 1% that Hillary's Candidacy Doomed

More proof of the doomed nature of Hillary's presidential run is The New York Times story that appeared yesterday ("Bloomberg, Sensing an Opening, Revisits a Potential White House Run" by Alexander Burns and Maggie Haberman) reporting that billionaire media mogul and former NYC mayor Mike Bloomberg is considering an independent run for the White House. Troubled by the rise of Trump and Cruz on the right and Bernie Sanders on the left Bloomberg says he will spend $1 billion of his vast personal fortune to win the presidency; he will make a decision by March.

Having recently finished reading Theresa Amato's Grand Illusion, a book that explores the many significant barriers to an independent or third party presidential bid in the United States, Bloomberg will need to spend a hefty chunk of his earmarked $1 billion just getting on the ballot in enough states -- not even all 50 -- to guarantee a majority of votes in the Electoral College.

Historically the raison d'être of independent or third party presidential runs is issue based. In the last 25 years, for example, we have had Ralph Nader's left progressive Green Party challenge and Ross Perot's deficits -- budget and trade -- jeremiad. Bloomberg, in this upside down world we live in, would be launching a first -- an independent presidential campaign in defense of a failed status quo. (An argument could me made that John Anderson's independent run against Carter and Reagan in 1980 was a precursor.)

The point I want to make here is that there will be no Bloomberg volunteers ready for mobilization because he is not leading with any issues other than "None of the above." The 1% is not going to sign up to gather signatures on street corners in Dallas to get Bloomberg on the ballot in Texas. Possibly he could lasso some soccer moms if he comes forward with something bold on guns, or maybe some suburban conservationists if he talks up renewable energy. But until that happens he is going to have to pay for absolutely everything. One billion U.S. dollars cannot buy the White House if you are peddling snake oil that the rubes have already sampled to their detriment.

The big takeaway of the Burns and Haberman article is that the Establishment, the 1%, the ruling elite -- pick your label -- is beginning to accept the obvious: Trump is going to win (a must-read on the GOP's coming to acceptance about Trump is Friday's "Donald Trump or Ted Cruz? Republicans Argue Over Who Is Greater Threat" by Jonathan Martin, backed up by the story about longtime Iowa senator Charles Grassley appearing at a Trump rally yesterday) and Hillary cannot win a general election against Trump, and she might not even be able to fend off Sanders in the primary.

A passage in the Burns and Haberman piece that captures the freak-out currently underway in Establishment circles is the quote from corrupt power broker and Clintonista Ed Rendell, the guy who as Philadelphia District Attorney prosecuted no one for the bombing of the MOVE house on Osage Avenue that destroyed a city block:
Edward G. Rendell, the former governor of Pennsylvania and a past Democratic National Committee chairman, said he believed Mr. Bloomberg could compete in the race if activist candidates on the left and right prevailed in the party primaries.
“Mike Bloomberg for president rests on the not-impossible but somewhat unlikely circumstance of either Donald Trump or Ted Cruz versus Bernie Sanders,” said Mr. Rendell, a close ally of Mrs. Clinton’s who is also a friend of Mr. Bloomberg’s. “If Hillary wins the nomination, Hillary is mainstream enough that Mike would have no chance, and Mike’s not going to go on a suicide mission.” 
In a three-way race featuring Mr. Sanders and Mr. Bloomberg, Mr. Rendell said he might back the former New York mayor. 
“As a lifelong Democrat, as a former party chairman, it would be very hard for me to do that,” he said. “But I would certainly take a look at it — absolutely.”
This is a former head of the DNC saying he will not back the party's nominee for president. What does that tell you about party leaders' faith in democracy? It should tell you that they don't have time for it.

It seems like every presidential election cycle for the last 12 years we go through this "Bloomberg might run as an independent" kabuki. Mike Bloomberg is a smart guy who knows how to read the polling he no doubt commissions for himself. He has never run as a independent for president because he can't win. He is a billionaire solidly of the billionaire class. His natural constituents are the elites who already control the duopoly, not the rank-and-file voters who have abandoned Bush and are making haste to abandon Clinton.

Republicans are spinning a Bloomberg independent candidacy as great for the GOP, just as they did at first when Perot decided to run in 1992. Now it is conventional wisdom that Perot elected Clinton.

Bloomberg will not run if Hillary holds on and wins the Democratic primary. He very well might run if Sanders wins, though the fact that the GOP appears now to be coalescing around Trump might keep him on the sidelines.

If it does end up being Bernie vs. Trump/Bloomberg, that is a bonanza for the Sanders camp. Bernie will be the only candidate able to say that he is not a billionaire.

The real problem for Hillary going forward is now that she has gone negative she is in a box. Read Brent Budowsky's "As Sanders Soars, Clinton Goes Negative — A Bad Move":
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) may be poised to win both the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary, and as Sanders soars, rival Hillary Clinton is making the worst possible move of launching an all-out attack against him, which is the same mistake she made when she attacked Barack Obama in 2008
For some time, I have strongly advised people close to the Clintons to not go negative against Sanders. Clinton needs to inspire voters about why she should be president, not become a negative candidate who reminds voters of the kind of politics they want to end.
Remember — and this is a key point — that when Clinton attacks Sanders for the vision and programs he believes in, she is attacking the large numbers of Democrats and independents who believe in what Sanders believes and favor the same changes and reforms that he promotes.
The Clinton attack against Sanders is the worst possible move for her and for Democrats. Because Clinton has low ratings for trustworthiness, whereas Sanders's ratings are high, a Clinton attack against Sanders will backfire.
Even worse for Clinton, the problem is that she has never articulated an uplifting and exciting reason for voters to back her, and her negative attack against Sanders will drown out any positive message she may have, if she has one.
Clinton's attacks against Sanders sounds strangely similar to her attacks against Obama in 2008. She is charging — among many things — that Sanders does not offer a realistic program, which is both condescending and wrong and an insult not only to Sanders, but to the large number of Democrats who are with Sanders.
What a presidential candidate should do is offer a panoramic vision of how America can become better, mobilize support for that vision, seek an election victory with a mandate, and then negotiate with Congress from strength and make the compromises that must ultimately be made to win the most dramatic possible reforms. That is what important presidents such as Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy did. That is what Sanders is doing.
What a presidential candidate should not do is identify with the status quo and oppose dramatic change even before the first ballot is counted and attack the change candidates as naive or unrealistic. This is what Clinton is doing with her negative attacks against Sanders.
Hillary has locked herself into a 50%+1 election scenario. This might be enough for her to muddle through in the Democratic primary based on a lack of familiarity with Sanders in red states as well as Clinton's advantage with super-delegates, but it guarantees a loss in the general against anybody but Cruz or Bush, and those two are not going to win the Republican primary.

At this point, with Iowa a little more than a week away, I am starting to think Hillary might not be the Democratic nominee.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Hippies vs. Punks: The Lemonheads' Lick (1989)

One thing is clear to me as this rainy week winds down: Lick (1989) is certainly the best Lemonheads record. It has it all. Ballads -- "A Circle of One" (The YouTube above) -- powerful Grunge rockers like the two opening tracks, "Mallo Cup" and "Glad I Don't Know," not to mention an amazing Punk love song, "Ever" (see You Tube below) and an adroit reworking of Suzanne Vega's contemporaneously popular hit "Luka."

Lick is the last Lemonheads album with Ben Deily and the last on independent label Taang! Records. Without Deily the band loses a lot of its Punk juevos and it basically becomes a vehicle for Dando's pretty boy Grunge (which achieves breakout commercial success a few years later with It's a Shame About Ray).

On the strength of Lick the Lemonheads were signed by Atlantic. I was at the performance where the deal was either broached or consummated, a show at CBGBs on a rainy summer Saturday night in 1989. There was hardly anyone there except for a bunch of older affluent record industry types with their dates sitting at tables back near the bar, 

Downtown Manhattan's population, at least when I lived in the city, tended to drop in density in the summer months; that, combined with the torrential downpour, made for deserted streets and a mostly empty CBGBs. Dando was out front in a white t-shirt chatting with someone when my buddy Gary and I got there. We had taken the 'A' down from Washington Heights and walked over from the West Village.

The Lemonheads -- Dando, Jesse Peretz and some guy on drums that I recognized from a photo on one of the albums -- were incredible that night. I shared the pit with two skinheads. (My friend Gary was not a fighter; he enjoyed the whole show positioned directly beneath one of the PA speakers. I would look over at him occasionally and he looked as if were teleporting Star Trek style, like he was atomizing before my eyes. That is how good the Lemonheads sounded that night.) The Punks and I beat the shit out of each other all night. They battered away at me, and we plowed through tables at the edge of the pit, yanking one another up off the floor when someone lost his footing so we could get right back to pummeling each other. I think we were as much a part of the show to the execs in the back of the hall as the band up on stage. I had an edge over the Punks because I was a believer in the music. I had picked up a copy of Lick as soon as it was released that spring. My wife and I played it non-stop. So by the end of the night, when the Punks had tossed in the sponge and sat down, I was dancing blissfully -- sort of a James Brown shoulder roll -- by myself on an empty floor.

As the old year was drawing to a close last month and I was walking to the library after work a New Pornographers song shuffled on my iPod, "Execution Day." It made me feel incredibly good. And since I was starting to think about The Lemonheads because I was watching Nurse Jackie episodes directed by Jesse Peretz, I thought about that night at an empty CBGBs dancing along to the band. And I realized I have never had a better night than that one.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Hillary Swings to the Right + Clock Running Out on Afghan Extra-Legal Government

There is a good piece this morning by Gaius Publius, "The Clinton Campaign Speaks to the New York Times," which combs through a Patrick Healy story, "Clinton Campaign Underestimated Sanders Strengths, Allies Say," that appeared in the Sunday edition of the paper. One of the interesting points sussed out is that the Hillary brain trust is fearful of a "wave election," which means that the Clinton campaign, contrary to its publicly stated position that it plans to win by returning the Obama coalition to the polls, is actually now running against the Obama coalition; hence the attacks on Sanders' "Medicare for All" from the right. According to Gaius Publius,
A “wave election” is one where a very large number of new voters attempt to make big changes. Very large numbers of new voters. Now go back up to the Healy comment gleaned from the Clinton campaign. Ms. Clinton is “unnerved by the possibility that Mr. Sanders will foment a large wave of first-time voters…” 
How would a “wave of first-time voters,” which would heavily drive Democratic base turnout, not be very good for the Democratic Party, as in, 2008-good. The Healy passage basically says that Hillary Clinton would trade away all of that to-the-party benefit to become the nominee, that she would be willing to seriously weaken the party so long as she could then lead it. This is almost the definition of destructive ambition. Is that a fair characterization? I think we’d have to ask Patrick Healy, as the quoted passage is his. 
Don’t forget that the quoted passage add the phrase “and liberals” to the “large wave of first-time voters” that Mrs. Clinton and her husband are “unnerved by.”Are Mr. and Ms. Clinton really “unnerved” by “liberals”? Again, the phrasing is Healy’s, but the sentiments are claimed to be those of the Clintons.
Just as the Republicans are struggling with a "wave election" of their own in the form of Donald Trump, so too are the Democrats. At this point the two hands of the duopoly are trying to beat down a democratic uprising. In the case of Hillary, her campaign team now regrets not resorting to fearmongering earlier ("A vote for Sanders is a vote to raise your taxes"; "Sanders is unelectable"). Amy Chozick outlines this in an illuminating piece that appeared yesterday, "Hillary Clinton Gets Set for a Long Slog Against Bernie Sanders," the most revealing passage of which I found to be the prediction of where the Clinton campaign's current rightward drift will end up:
Even if Mrs. Clinton wins in Iowa, where she maintains a slight lead in most polls, Mr. Sanders could receive an outpouring of small donations if the outcome is close that would help him compete in subsequent states. Mr. Sanders, a small-state senator who has never run for national office, has shown surprising fund-raising muscle. Many of his donors have yet to give him the maximum individual contribution of $2,700, meaning they could be tapped repeatedly if the contest remains close. [Good point.] His campaign raised $33 million in the final quarter of 2015, just $4 million less than Mrs. Clinton.
Mrs. Clinton’s aides say they expect to win Iowa and New Hampshire [happy talk] and are ready for the grind. A giant whiteboard on the wall of the campaign’s headquarters maps out where staff members would be sent depending on the outcomes in the early states.
“We just game out a bunch of different scenarios,” Mr. Mook said. “It’s kind of like ‘choose your own adventure.’ ”
This is not the adventure the Clinton team would have chosen.
A prolonged primary campaign against an opponent widely popular with the party’s liberal base could exhaust donors who will also be asked to contribute to an expensive campaign to defeat the Republican nominee. A contentious race against Mr. Sanders could also weaken Mrs. Clinton’s standing among Democratic voters she would need in November.
The last sentence is the obvious one, the one that loomed large last year but has yet to be given the prominence it deserves. Now it is all the more prominent because Hillary is attacking from the right. After months of this, how are you going to drive turnout among the progressive Democratic base come November? You're not.

The pro-Hillary people are hoping that a defense of the Democratic status quo -- Obamacare, for instance (see Krugman's hopeless Monday column, "Health Reform Realities") -- will allow the Clinton campaign to muddle through. But while this might be a 50%+1 strategy to win the Democratic nomination, it basically guarantees a loss in the general election (unless the Republicans manage to concoct an even more perverse strategy to nominate an Establishment-friendly alternative to Trump).

One story that is worth taking a look at is Mujib Mashal's "Afghan Panel Sets Election Date, Drawing Government Criticism." Afghanistan and the United States are intimately linked. At the end of the 1970s when neoliberalism -- the eradication of social democracy -- was taking root in a post-Vietnam, post-Watergate America, a robust militarist accompaniment was called for. Afghanistan provided it with Charlie Wilson's War, the U.S.-led, Saudi-funded proxy conflict against the Soviet Union. Then there was the post-9/11 occupation, which remains to this day despite many announcements of the end of combat operations.

 In 2014 the U.S./NATO puppet government was in danger of splitting apart because of the fraudulent election of Ashraf Ghani over his opponent Abdullah Abdullah. Secretary of State John Kerry jetted in and cobbled together an "extra-legal" agreement enshrining a unity government that made Ghani president and Abdullah chief executive.

That agreement had a sunset date, this October, and some caveats, two of which are that parliamentary elections be held before October and that a loya jirga be convened, none of which has happened. According to Mashal,
The Afghan unity government, brokered by the United States after the bitter election dispute between Mr. Ghani and Mr. Abdullah in 2014 threatened to tear the country apart, is in a race against time to meet the requirements of the political agreement it was founded on, set to expire in October. 
That agreement requires the government to hold local elections, which are already months overdue, by the time it completes two years in office in October. It is also supposed to have convened a grand assembly of elders from across the country by October to amend the Constitution and create the position of prime minister for Mr. Abdullah to move into. 
Pressure from political opposition groups has been increasing on Mr. Ghani and Mr. Abdullah in recent months. Some of the groups have warned that the government, severely pressed by Taliban offensives across the country, will lose its legitimacy if it does not hold the elections soon. Other groups have given up on the current government entirely, calling for early presidential elections to bring in a new administration.
The problem is even if there were a decision by all in government to hold elections immediately there would likely not be enough time, with war raging in Helmand Province and Islamic State on the rise in Nangarhar Province, to have elections by October.

The October surprise in the U.S. elections could be the collapse of the quisling government in Afghanistan.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Age of Megacrises: Slavery is Not Far Off

Somini Sengupta reports from the United Nations, "Dispute Over Opposition’s Seat at Table Threatens to Push Back Syria Peace Talks," that peace talks on the war in Syria scheduled to begin next week in Geneva will likely be delayed. The reason? The Saudis are demanding the exclusive right to name the opposition, meaning they will determine who will negotiate with the Syrian government. Currently the Saudis are barring participation by the Kurdish People's Protection Units, fighters who have proven time and again to be superior to the Salafi jihadists. But they are Marxist in orientation. So the sheikhs of monarchical al-Saud will not countenance them at "their" table. The Russians have responded that if al-Saud gets a veto over composition of the negotiating teams, so too will Russia. 

Unless the Saudis relent this doesn't seem like it is going to be resolved. And there is very little in the last several years to lead one to believe that the Saudis are going to relent. If they are made to toe the line because of U.S. pressure, they'll find some other way to scuttle the peace talks. Already the promised ceasefire that was trumpeted when these talks were agreed to last month is being walked back.

The war will of course continue. Hence the importance of another story by Somini Sengupta, one that appeared in yesterday's paper, "U.N.-Appointed Panel Calls for a Tax to Pay for Crises." Acknowledging that global megacrises are not going away -- in fact, they are expected to increase -- the United Nations is considering a small transaction tax on high-volume goods and services, like that morning Starbucks:
UNITED NATIONS — What if the next time you buy World Cup tickets or summon an Uber ride, you found yourself paying a few cents extra to pay for winter blankets for Syrian refugees or clean water for those displaced in Darfur, Sudan? 
That idea — a small tax on high-volume goods and services — is among those proposed by an independent panel appointed by the United Nations to figure out how to pay for the staggering humanitarian crises facing the world today. The report, released Sunday, plainly acknowledges the limits of traditional charity on the part of the world’s rich and calls for a sea change in thinking about how to pay for lifesaving aid in what the Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, called “the age of the megacrises.”
The nine-member panel’s report comes as new conflicts erupt in places like Yemen, old ones persist in places like Darfur and climate change intensifies floods and droughts in already fragile countries. Aid for the millions of people affected has sharply risen, but it has not kept pace with demands.
The world needs $40 billion each year to meet the needs of those affected by wars and natural disasters and already faces a shortfall of $15 billion for this year. Those needs are expected to grow; as the report stated bluntly, “Never before has generosity been so insufficient.” Already, food aid has been repeatedly slashed for refugees fleeing conflict in places like Somalia and Syria.
The panel — which includes representatives of donor governments, corporations and civil society — takes pains to point out that despite the growing needs, what the world needs to pony up for emergency relief is a fraction of the $78 trillion global economy. It also argues that in the end, while “helping people in distress is morally right,” providing aid is also in the interest of donor countries.
A new UN tax is not going to be popular with the "black helicopter" Tea Party crowd; it will confirm in their minds that there is a vast global conspiracy to enslave them. And there is. But the ring leader is not Ban Ki-moon. All the UN report does is confirm that its member states are committed to warfare and not so committed to addressing climate change; hence, the need for a dedicated revenue stream to deal with all the refugees created by war and flooding.

Participating in a peaceful march on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day I chatted with a fellow union member and we agreed that a return of slavery is the end game of the 1%. It might not look the plantation system of the Old South in the United States, though there might be similarities. I think first we'll see some sort of de jure form of indenture or peonage rather than the de facto second-class citizenship or "sub-citizenship" so common in today's low-growth, low-wage dominant neoliberal paradigm.

For an interesting discussion of the contradictions inherent in today's U.S. economy -- slow growth vs. healthy hiring -- read Nelson Schwartz's "U.S. Growth and Employment Data Tell Different Stories." This prediction caught my eye:
To be sure, some experts are not convinced that healthy payroll increases necessarily portend faster growth, arguing that the economy is on very shaky ground. 
“People commonly use employment as a leading indicator,” said David A. Levy, a veteran independent economist in Mount Kisco, N.Y., “but it’s a lagging indicator.” 
Mr. Levy said the optimists were underestimating just how big the impact from weakness overseas will be. 
“The U.S. economy is going to be pulled into a recession for the first time since World War II by overseas events,” he said. “Emerging markets, including China, are this cycle’s housing bubble.”
Previously I have been of the mind that the Chinese had a steady hand on the controls of their economy. Now I'm moving with the herd. I think China is overextended, and they are in a box with global deflation.

The first story to catch my eye this morning was a short one by Liam Stack, "Scholastic Halts Distribution of ‘A Birthday Cake for George Washington’." Apparently Scholastic, a publisher for children (and my first post-college workplace), killed a book because of outrage over the depiction of joyful slaves toiling happily for General Washington. At first, Scholastic stood by the book:
The plot of the book focuses on Hercules, an enslaved cook in the home of George Washington, and his daughter Delia as they bake the president a birthday cake. 
Earlier this month, Andrea Davis Pinkney, the executive editor of Scholastic Trade Publishing, defended the book in a blog post as a complex portrayal of American slavery that approached the topic with “the utmost care.” 
She wrote that Mr. Washington “admired” Hercules and that the cook lived a life of “near-freedom” because of the president’s fondness for him. Hercules and the other kitchen slaves reciprocated those warm feelings, she said, and “took great pride in their ability to cook for a man of such stature.”
That pride in their position in the president’s kitchen is why the book’s illustrator, Vanessa Brantley-Newton, chose to depict the slaves “as happy people,” Ms. Pinkney wrote. 
“They were not happy about being enslaved, but there was joy in what they created through their intelligence and culinary talent,” she said, adding that some historians consider Hercules to have been “the first celebrity chef in America.” 
Critics were unimpressed by those explanations, however, and the backlash against the book led to an avalanche of one-star reviews on Amazon and a petition calling for its removal from stores.
This I fear is what is coming down the pike: We must learn to love our lives of "near-freedom" and relish and take "great pride" in being in proximity to people of stature. If this is what we are teaching our children, slavery is not far off.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Let the Fire Burn

Last night after a day mostly spent in front of the television -- suffering (mildly) through elimination of the home team (it has been a rough year, and the 31-24 loss to the Panthers in Charlotte comes almost as a relief) in the divisional round of the NFL playoffs, followed by the Broncos comeback against Pittsburgh, then on to the Democratic presidential debate on NBC before skipping over to CBS and the Sean Penn interview on 60 Minutes -- I decided to watch some more TV, this time in the form of Let the Fire Burn (2013), a documentary about the premeditated destruction of a MOVE house by the Philadelphia Police Department. The police dropped from a hovering helicopter an improvised satchel of explosives onto the roof of the MOVE house on Osage Avenue after an armed standoff. The city authorities, both police and fire, then let the fire burn, burning up most of the block and killing 11 people in the MOVE house.

An appropriate beginning to the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, interspersed as it was with my reading of Gail Collins' slim biography of William Henry Harrison, the ninth POTUS, renowned for catching pneumonia while delivering his inaugural address and then dying after only a month in office. Harrison's reputation was built on defeating the great Pan-Indian leader Tecumseh at the Battle of the Thames and swindling the Great Lakes tribes out of their land.

My feeling before drifting off to sleep is that the United States will always need the other -- Indians, blacks, whomever -- to rob, oppress and annihilate. It is part of the nation's hard-wiring. You'll notice that not even a self-avowed socialist like Bernie Sanders could deviate from the threadbare demonization of Iran as the bogeyman of the Middle East.

Let the Fire Burn is immaculately produced from archival footage of investigatory commission hearings the city conducted into the police attack on the MOVE house on Osage, as well as footage from local television reporters on the scene. It is worth checking out.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Hawkeye #22

Time marches on. Looking back on the last four years of domestic politics what jumps out is the failure of the Obama presidency, coupled with a complete failure on the right to put forward any coherent counter narrative other than the eternal virtue of rapacious greed.

Hence, we are left with a failed political system. There are no heroes in this world. The main players are corrupt and untrustworthy. The good that is being accomplished is being done at the local level. Bigger is not better; small is beautiful. We see this reflected now in comic books with the rise of the anti-hero and the proliferation of female champions. A title that reflected this shift if not paved its way was Hawkeye, by writer Matt Fraction and artist David Aja.

Hawkeye, issues 1-22, featured longtime Avenger and marksman nonpareil Clint Barton as a regular guy who lives in a Brooklyn apartment building that happens to be the target of a hostile acquisition by Slavic thugs in track suits. Barton is a hunky, perpetually bruised and battered slacker who is joined by a female Hawkeye, Kate Bishop, a friend and protege.

Hawkeye meandered over four years moving to its own beat; it followed Bishop out to Los Angeles and became entirely devoted to her exploits there (Annie Wu provided art for the West Coast issues). The whole time Hawkeye emphasized community -- whether with the tenants (black and white, young and old) of Barton's Brooklyn tenement or Bishop's black gay neighbors in California. Real regular people, not Thor wielding his mighty hammer or Captain American tossing his mighty shield. And along the way Fraction even tossed in an Occupy Sandy story arc.

I posted in 2013 on Hawkeye #6 and said about the Zeitgeist-defining Invincible Iron Man, written by Matt Fraction with art by Salvador Larocca, that:
Hopefully when historians study the United States from the 2008 McCain-Obama presidential election campaign to the 2012 Romney-Obama presidential election campaign they will consult the amazing, consistently excellent, four-year Fraction and Larocca run in Invincible Iron Man. A lot would be revealed.
Now historians can study the Fraction-Aja-Hollingsworth Hawkeye to understand what went on from 2012-2015. To move forward we have to go back to the basics. To women and men. To people. The real heroes.

Below are 14 scans from the last issue, #22, of the Fraction-Aja run on Hawkeye. The track suits and a harlequin assassin are bested by the residents of the apartment building working together with the Hawkeyes, Clint and Kate. Community action:

Friday, January 15, 2016

Hippies vs. Punks: The Lemonheads' Creator (1988)

The plan is that for the remaining Fridays in January Hippies vs. Punks will be devoted to what I believe to be the seminal recordings of The Lemonheads -- Creator (1988), Lick (1989) and the major-label debut on Atlantic Lovey (1990), leaving us deposited in February at the doorstep of It's a Shame About Ray (1992), the breakthrough album for Evan Dando during the zenith of Grunge.

It is unclear at this point if I'll have the stomach to plow forward to Car Button Cloth (1996), the last album before the band was mothballed; there is some merit in doing so because the seven albums The Lemonheads produced from 1987 to 1996 correspond to the rise and fall of Grunge, a decade when it seemed possible that there might be some sort of durable counterculture forming.

The release of Creator in August 1988 coincided with my relocation to New York City. I bought the album at Bleecker Bob's in the West Village, probably after work or on my lunch break at my first job in the Big Apple, a research assistant for a lady manager at Scholastic Magazines.

I listened to the album a lot because it reaffirmed a sense of pure youth endangered as I became devoured by the brutal post-collegiate workaday world. Looking back now I realize that the hat tips to Charles Manson on Creator -- "Your Home Is Where You're Happy" and "Die Right Now" -- were an upside down flag, a signal of not only distress but refusal to assimilate.

This refusal to assimilate would mark my years from 1988 all the way to the millennium. By the time the millennium rolled around the confidence of a youth-based counterculture had been narrowed to a select urban milieu, which I suppose is a return to the origins of Punk.

But in 1988 the Grunge rocketship is fueling on its launch pad, and in 1989 it would blast off.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

If Trump Manages to Win the Iowa Caucus, He Will Win the Republican Primary

An interesting note is that the GOP used its response to Obama's State of the Union Address to attack Donald Trump (David Herszenhorn and Emmarie Huetteman, "Obama Speech Points to Successes, as Would-Be Successors Look On"):
In this year’s response, Gov. Nikki R. Haley of South Carolina seemed to be part of a pointed effort by Republican leaders to wrest control of the party’s message back from Donald J. Trump, the billionaire and leading presidential contender in the polls. 
Ms. Haley, the daughter of Indian immigrants who became her state’s first female and minority governor, urged Americans not to marginalize immigrants in the face of current threats, an apparent reference to Mr. Trump’s recent call for barring foreign Muslims from entering the country.
“During anxious times, it can be tempting to follow the siren call of the angriest voices,” she said. “We must resist that temptation. No one who is willing to work hard, abide by our laws and love our traditions should ever feel unwelcome in this country.” 
Ms. Haley has also been especially critical of Mr. Obama on national security and military cuts, a message that resonated in her response on Tuesday. 
“We would make international agreements that were celebrated in Israel and protested in Iran, not the other way around,” she said in a jab at Mr. Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran.
This is why Trump is likely to be the winner in the Republican primary. The GOP is peddling pure hokum, not the tolerance part about welcoming immigrants, but the neocon call for perpetual war that Haley sounds in the last sentence. Trump might be bellicose, but his position, believe it or not, is not as manifestly contradictory as that of the GOP Establishment. Trump is telling people he will build a wall to keep out the immigrant hordes. Wars might be raging across the globe, but Trump will keep the flotsam and jetsam from washing up on U.S. shores.

Republican Establishment candidates like Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush are sticking to the same script as conservative German chancellor Angela Merkel, espousing tolerance while backing devastating wars in the Middle East. At some basic level, probably beyond the ability of most to articulate, voters understand this contradiction and are at the beginning stages of rebellion. It is happening all over Europe. Trump is the right-wing manifestation of that rebellion in the United States.

A legitimate question is whether this rebellion can be communicated through the ossified channels of the political system. A persistent criticism of Trump's viability as a candidate is his lack of "ground game," the absence of volunteers in precincts to knock on doors and staff phone banks to get out the vote. In Iowa this is all the more important because caucuses require a level of commitment not found in your average voter in the United States.

An enjoyable "hit piece" directed at Trump's Iowa campaign appears this morning in the national edition of The New York Times. Written by the prickly Trip Gabriel, "Donald Trump’s Iowa Ground Game Seems to Be Missing a Coach," puts a spotlight on the half-ass, amateurish volunteer effort to get voters to the caucuses on February 1. But my takeaway from the article is that the Trump volunteers interviewed just don't have the practiced knack for lying -- because the voter outreach problems they voice are real for every campaign.

The main "hit" component of Gabriel's piece is to besmirch the Trump campaign because one of its voulteers is a "9/11 truther," someone who believes the terrorist attacks on 9/11 were an inside job, a conspiracy:
In Fairfield, in southeast Iowa, Mr. Shaddock, the 9/11 skeptic, said it would be difficult to find someone to speak publicly on Mr. Trump’s behalf in each of the eight precincts in the area. He asked the Trump campaign for $500 to rent the Fairfield Arts and Convention Center so all precincts could caucus together, which would require just one speaker. The campaign turned him down. “Donald himself could have spent $500,” he said. 
A computer network installer, Mr. Shaddock said he was disturbed by Mr. Trump’s comments about Muslims. “It comes across as bigoted,” he said. “I have customers who are Muslims.” 
Although he was not at the Ottumwa rally, Mr. Shaddock said he would have stood up to object when Mr. Trump referred to Muslims flying planes into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. 
“That hasn’t been proven,” he said. “I would have stood up and said, ‘Listen, it was remote-controlled takeover of the autoland’ ” technology. 
Mr. Shaddock’s outspokenness on these views, which the campaign has asked him to rein in, was not tested on Tuesday night as he placed calls to voters. Using an app, Ground Game 2, supplied by the Trump campaign, which also provided a list of prospects in his precinct, he placed calls to all eight names — as many as he had been given for the day by Trump headquarters. 
Six times he reached voice mail messages. Another number was not in service. At the one number he reached, a woman picked up, and Mr. Shaddock asked to speak to the voter on his list, a man. 
“I don’t know that person,” the woman said. 
“I did dial the correct number, right?” Mr. Shaddock asked. 
The woman hung up.
That's the way it goes when you phone bank. The way people use telephones has changed in the last 15 years. Voter outreach is harder than ever. If anything, Gabriel's description of the Trump volunteer cuts against the mainstream grain that all Trump's support comes from bigots and haters.

Based on organization alone, one would have to wager that Ted Cruz will win Iowa because of his status as champion of the Evangelicals. But then there is that unfortunate frontpager today that documents how big banks -- Goldman Sachs and Citibank -- funded Cruz's U.S. Senate campaign and Cruz never declared it. Even if you're an Evangelical you don't want to vote for a Wall Street shill.

So if your upset with the way the country and the world is trending, and you're of a conservative bent, there is no alternative to The Donald.

My prediction is that if a ground-gameless Trump can win a caucus state like Iowa chock full of Evangelicals as it is he will win the Republican primary. The next question then becomes to what lengths does the GOP Establishment go to rig its convention in order to steal the nomination.