Monday, February 29, 2016

Super Tuesday

It was a depressing weekend. The Clinton margin of victory among blacks in South Carolina, even greater than what she racked up in Nevada, is a death knell for Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign, as Nate Cohn explains in "Hillary Clinton’s Winning Numbers in South Carolina Suggest Sweep in South":
[Hillary] has won South Carolina in a rout, 73.5 percent to 26 percent, exceeding Mr. Obama’s own 29-point victory in 2008. She did it the same way that Mr. Obama did: with overwhelming support from black voters, who favored Mrs. Clinton over Bernie Sanders by a stunning margin of 87 to 13, according to updated exit polls — a tally that would be larger than Mr. Obama’s victory among black voters eight years earlier. Black voters represented 62 percent of the electorate, according to exit polls, even higher than in 2008.
The result positions Mrs. Clinton for a sweep of the South in a few days on Super Tuesday and puts the burden on Mr. Sanders to post decisive victories elsewhere. If he does not — and the polls, at least so far, are not encouraging — Mrs. Clinton seems likely to amass a significant and possibly irreversible lead.
For Mrs. Clinton, the path to the presidential nomination is straightforward: fight Mr. Sanders to a draw among the nonblack voters who dominate the party’s contests in many Northern and Western states, and win by huge margins among black voters, who represent about a quarter of Democratic voters nationally. They represent the majority of Democrats in the South, which will play a crucial role on Super Tuesday.
The results in South Carolina — as well as in Nevada, where Mrs. Clinton also won black voters by a wide margin — suggest that she can count on big wins in six Super Tuesday states where black voters represent an above-average share of Democratic voters: Alabama, Texas, Virginia, Tennessee, Arkansas and Georgia. The polls say the same thing.
As a result, the Sanders campaign has effectively conceded the South on Super Tuesday. The campaign is not airing advertisements there, according to NBC News data. It’s instead concentrating resources in five states with far fewer black voters and far fewer delegates: Oklahoma, Minnesota, Colorado, Massachusetts and Vermont. It is a strategy that aims to maximize Mr. Sanders’s chance of winning states, but it doesn’t necessarily prevent Mrs. Clinton from running up huge delegate leads from the South.
The likelihood of a Clinton landslide in the delegate-rich South means that Mr. Sanders can’t compensate with a few narrow, feel-good wins outside the South. The thing to watch on Tuesday night is whether Mr. Sanders can win by big — even double-digit — margins in states like Minnesota or Massachusetts. The margins matter, because delegates are awarded proportionally in the Democratic nomination contest.
Even this might not be enough in a place like Minnesota or Massachusetts, depending on whether one assumes that Mr. Sanders has an advantage in caucus states like Minnesota or a state bordering Vermont like Massachusetts. If Mrs. Clinton has an advantage among Hispanic voters, in addition to black voters, then the burden on Mr. Sanders would grow even more to dominate with white voters in states like Massachusetts or Minnesota.
The polling, at least for now, says Mr. Sanders is not positioned to win by these sorts of margins. He’s in a tight race in Massachusetts. He’s in a tight race in Oklahoma, a state with a below-average black population and a large number of working-class Democrats. There is not much polling in Colorado or Minnesota, but there isn’t much evidence of a blowout there or in neighboring Wisconsin.
I think Cohn's analysis is on the money. Hillary has proven herself Obama's equal in winning a huge percentage of the black vote. And while it is true that Bernie wins a majority of white voters, though apparently not in South Carolina, it is more a split than a landslide. Absent a bombshell like an indictment, Hillary's path to the nomination seems safe.

Hence, the low feeling this weekend. Particularly after reading the massive two-parter by Jo Becker and Scott Shane (The Libya Gamble: "Hillary Clinton, ‘Smart Power’ and a Dictator’s Fall" and "A New Libya, With 'Very Little Time Left' ") about the disastrous Hillary-backed coup of Libya's Muammar Gaddafi. Hillary's fingerprints are all over the destruction of North Africa, the Middle East and now Europe.

The good news though is she going to have great difficulty winning a general election against Trump. Cohn is too busy lining out the limitations of Bernie's campaign to note the weakness of Hillary's. For starters, Democratic turnout has been less than the GOP so far. Trump broke records for turnout in South Carolina and Nevada. This has to be very troubling for Team Clinton. For the winning formula of the Obama coalition to work, Hillary will need not only the constituency groups -- blacks, Latinos, youth -- but she will need juiced turnout by those constituents. Hillary has the blacks, but so far she does not have young people and there is no evidence that she is winning the Latino vote by a significant margin. Most importantly, Hillary is not inspiring new voters to come to the polls the way Trump is. Read Matt Taibbi's excellent "How America Made Donald Trump Unstoppable" and ask yourself, "How does Trump lose any of the big swing states to Hillary?"

One possible answer is found in "Inside the Republican Party’s Desperate Mission to Stop Donald Trump" by Alexander Burns, Maggie Haberman and Johnathan Martin. The GOP will campaign against Trump in the general:
While still hopeful that Mr. Rubio might prevail, Mr. McConnell has begun preparing senators for the prospect of a Trump nomination, assuring them that, if it threatened to harm them in the general election, they could run negative ads about Mr. Trump to create space between him and Republican senators seeking re-election. Mr. McConnell has raised the possibility of treating Mr. Trump’s loss as a given and describing a Republican Senate to voters as a necessary check on a President Hillary Clinton, according to senators at the lunches.
He has reminded colleagues of his own 1996 re-election campaign, when he won comfortably amid President Bill Clinton’s easy re-election. Of Mr. Trump, Mr. McConnell has said, “We’ll drop him like a hot rock,” according to his colleagues.
The article also limns Republican plans to steal the nomination from Trump at the convention.

Maybe the GOP will incinerate itself. We can only hope. One thing is for sure: If Hillary does as well tomorrow as is generally predicted, Bloomberg will not run. The elites will all line up with Hillary, and it will be Hillary vs. the world.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Hippies vs. Punks: Eagles' Hotel California (1976)

This excursion on chart-topping records from 1975 began after I smelled a rat last month. The local hipster radio station bent over backwards in lugubrious homage after the passing of David Bowie on January 10, devoting a whole day of programming to the oeuvre of the Thin White Duke after just having spent a whole Friday playing Bowie records in honor of his birthday, January 8. My antenna started to tingle after the station engaged in the most perfunctory of memorials following the death of one of the Hippie founding fathers and a godfather of psychedelia, Paul Kantner, at the end of January. The attention paid to Kantner far outstripped what respects were paid to Eagles co-founder Glenn Frey though, because as far as I could tell the hipsters marked Frey's passing not at all (much the same could be said of KEXP's treatment of Maurice White). This does not speak well of hipsters.

It is frequently quoted that "History is written by the victors," which is a form of presentism, the idea that the best way to look at the past is through a prism of the current cultural paradigm. Whereas the radio station's elision of Earth, Wind & Fire is undoubtedly due to racism, the omission of Eagles music can be chalked up to a brittle snobbery and an elite know-nothingism.

The fact is that the Eagles are as important to the Great American Songbook as George Gershwin, Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra and Johnny Cash. They are the highest-selling America band in U.S. history with the highest-selling album in U.S. history, 1976's Their Greatest Hits, 1971 - 1975. Growing up in the United States of the 1970s Eagles music was ambient. And what makes it important for us on this page is that they ruled the roost when Hippies gave up the ghost in the middle-1970s and the Punks arrived on the scene.

Originally, to stay with the year 1975, this post was meant to be about One of These Nights, the hugely successful Eagles album produced by Bill Szymczyk. Unfortunately, the hold I placed on the album at my public library never arrived, and I couldn't bring myself to pay for a digital download. Instead, I found an inexpensive used CD of Hotel California (1976) at my local record emporium. Having a connection to the album, I decided to immerse myself in it this week.

My connection to Hotel California is twofold. First, though the album is listed as a product of 1976, which it is, it didn't achieve saturation radio airplay until the following summer. The Eagles' masterpiece "Hotel California" and the saccharine, lachrymose, Frey-sung "New Kid in Town" both reached #1 on the U.S Billboard Hot 100 in 1977, and "Life in the Fast Lane" almost cracked the top ten. I remember playing Frisbee with my oldest sister's girlfriend, the stereo speakers blasting "Hotel California," on a warm summer evening; it seemed to me to be some sort of perfection, like a state of bliss was aurally captured and transmitted and history had to end because there was no place left for time to go.

That was in the summer of 1977, about the same time as the Sex Pistols took their famous boat-ride-turned-police-melee on the Thames during Queen Elizabeth II's Silver Jubilee anniversary celebration. Second, my hipster college girlfriend, a person that flits in and out of these Hippies-vs.-Punks posts (see the Pure Mania post or the Hate Your Friends post), someone with whom I became intimate when my wife-to-be was largely absent for the year prior to our relocating to the East Coast, made a mix tape for me as a going-away gift. Anchoring the Pixies, Dinosaur Jr. and Replacements tracks was "Hotel California."

So, to my mind, the Eagles' Hotel California always had hipster chops. That sense was upheld this week. The two-guitar attack of Don Felder and Joe Walsh that provides the coda to "Hotel California" might not be as arty as Glenn Branca but it is definitely not lite rock and it definitely has an avant-garde edge to it.

There are other arty flourishes throughout Hotel California: the symphonic instrumental reprise of "Wasted Time" that begins side two; a song sung by bass player Randy Meisner, "Try and Love Again," that sounds like something off Gerald Collier's hipster-fave eponymous album from 1997; Don Henley's shrewd indictment of American Manifest Destiny in "The Last Resort" to conclude the album, not to mention an exhaustive criticism of the bankruptcy of "massified bohemia" found in "Hotel California" and "Life in the Fast Lane."

Walking to work on a chilly morning this week listening to "Life in the Fast Lane" I saw a young woman dressed for the office driving in her compact car, and what struck me is that the same thing has been happening for the 40 years since Hotel California was released and the machine has only gotten worse.

In the end, what is interesting about Hotel California is how negative it is and how prescient it was. The dead end had arrived for the Hippies by 1977, and the Eagles called it. Despite this almost hostile negativity, the record is celebrated as a pillar of classic rock. That makes Hotel California a fascinating document of the nihilism that is the root of our present neoliberal age. Too bad the hipsters at the radio station didn't give it a listen.

Why Hillary is So Beatable

This morning the pro-Hillary New York Times calls on Clinton to release the transcripts of her speeches to the big banks, "Mrs. Clinton, Show Voters Those Transcripts." This comes a day after video of Black Lives Matter protester Ashley Williams confronting Hillary at a tony Charleston fundraising soiree with a piece of cloth reading "WE HAVE TO BRING THEM TO HEEL" (a quote from Hillary's 1996 "super-predator" speech) went viral.

Look at Adam Johnson's AlterNet post "Black Lives Matter Activist Confronts Clinton About Racially Charged Remarks Because the Corporate Media Won't" for an immediate visceral understanding of why Hillary is the establishment's candidate of choice -- not Rubio, not the "suspended" Jeb Bush, not Ted Cruz.

Hillary is the personification of everything rancid in a political system controlled by the wealthy for the wealthy to the detriment of working people and the planet.

The hashtag #WhichHillary began trending yesterday as people saw the video. Naked Capitalism's Yves Smith points out that Twitter "apparently expunged from the 'trending' list" #WhichHillary.

This is the story of Hillary 2016. We all know that she is a sickening corpse. The problem is that the people in power want her to lead us.

It's not over yet. There is still hope. Young Ashley Williams will inspire many more activists. The transcripts of Hillary's Goldman groveling will hopefully find there way to the public.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Trump Pros and Cons (The Cons Have It)

There are two ways to look at the ascendance of Donald Trump, one pro and the other con; both positions find expression in Jennifer Steinhauer's frontpager this morning, "Republican Race Puts Donald Trump and Paul Ryan on Collision Course."

The positive is that The Donald is destroying the current Republican Party. Look at what the reality television star has accomplished so far: He quickly asphyxiated the presidential candidacy of a truly baleful Wisconsin governor, Scott Walker; and he ruthlessly exposed the Bush dynasty as nothing more than a mirage generated by the heat produced by furiously spending tens of millions of dollars.

Trump has proven himself an avatar of the new media. According to Nicky Wolf, a reporter covering the U.S. presidential race for The Guardian who was interviewed yesterday on Democracy Now!, Trump is rewriting the playbook:
But I think Trump is also a uniquely 21st century social media phenomenon, too. He’s huge, to paraphrase him, on Twitter. He’s got this enormous following. He can reach more people with a tweet than almost every TV ad market in the country. Now, that’s something that Schwarzenegger never had and that Jesse Ventura never had, that Reagan never had. I think that changes the arithmetic of stuff a bit here. And he’s just so able to build this brand. It’s difficult to not see him as a pretty unique phenomenon now. And it’s amazing to watch. I mean, it’s just absolutely spectacular how he’s playing with the Republican Party like a cat with a mouse. It’s fantastic.
The reason it is fantastic is that Trump is trumpeting positions that are the direct opposite of GOP orthodoxy -- on trade, on Social Security, on Russia. These differences between Trump and the Republican congressional agenda are what Steinhauer highlights in her story. We can only hope that enough power brokers in the GOP establishment maintain their delusion that Trump can somehow be kept from the nomination. The idea that some of these dead-enders seem to be forming, now that it is apparent that Rubio has very little mojo, is of a brokered convention that produces Paul Ryan as the party's nominee. As Steinhauer explains,
Though most in the Republican establishment are hoping for the dust to settle and for Senator Marco Rubio to emerge as their nominee — his Capitol Hill endorsements stack up daily — some still murmur privately that in the event of Mr. Trump’s nomination, they would like to see Mr. Ryan emerge as a brokered nominee at the Republican National Convention in July.
This amounts to a nuclear option. The potential damage to the GOP is beyond comprehension.

That's why there is already a significant amount of noise emanating from Capitol Hill that all sounds like "Wait a second. We can work with Trump." According to Steinhauer,
Some Republican lawmakers say, though nervously, that there would be plenty of intersection between their agenda and Mr. Trump’s. His tax plan — which calls for large tax cuts for all Americans, especially the rich — is similar to Mr. Ryan’s. Mr. Trump, like Mr. Ryan, is all for repealing and replacing the current health care law, although he, unlike Mr. Ryan, has endorsed the individual mandate. 
“In a lot of ways, it might actually be conducive to getting things done to have someone with business sense in the White House,” said Representative Mick Mulvaney, Republican of South Carolina and a leader of the conservative House Freedom Caucus.
Like Mr. Ryan, Mr. Trump also supports gun rights and a strong military, although Mr. Trump has broken with many Republicans with his criticism of the Iraq war. 
“All of the Republican presidential candidates would be better than Hillary Clinton,” said AshLee Strong, a spokeswoman for Mr. Ryan. “And Speaker Ryan would be able to work with any one of them.” 
Some even argue that Mr. Ryan, who operated in lonely political waters before his party took over the House in 2011, will adjust to the environment and try to help Republicans in congressional races who, in many states, will be fighting for their lives. 
Congressional Republicans — especially senators up for re-election in swing states — have been terrified to criticize Mr. Trump by name because they need his voters, too, in primary and possible general election battles. White-hot fear is beginning to set in.
This is the negative: Trump is the right wing's Obama 2008, a shape-shifting Manchurian Candidate who is in fact loyal to the 1%. I think this is the correct interpretation, brought home to me one morning reading a Gail Collins column, "Trump Shows His Inner Rabbit," where she points out that Trump back-tracked on his most powerful statement during the last Republican debate, that Bush and Cheney lied to get us into Iraq:
In a dramatic highlight of the last Republican debate, Trump accused the Bush administration of deliberately deceiving the American public about the invasion. (“They lied. They said there were weapons of mass destruction. There were none.”) It was a potentially historic moment: a top Republican candidate for president attempts to lead his party into a frank reappraisal of the Bush-Cheney administration’s inherent honesty.

Here we are, one week later: “I’m not talking about lying. ... Nobody really knows why we went into Iraq.” 
Meanwhile, reporters continue to ask Trump supporters what the attraction is. And his fans say that he tells it like it is.
Trump is an agile performer whose gift is the ability to mesmerize an audience with an apparent spontaneity; this sponateity creates a facsimile of truthfulness.

It is of course nothing of the sort. It is bullshit. A Trump White House would preside over a large tax cut for the 1% and a big increase in military spending. It would be Reagan's first term all over again.

Let's see who Trump selects for a VP. My guess is a hawkish general a la Curtis LeMay, George Wallace's running mate in his 1968 independent presidential bid.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The European Union is Finished + The Battle for Mosul Set to Begin

Mark this winter as the end of the European Union. In "Clashes Erupt in Greece as Macedonia Bars Afghan Asylum Seekers," Liz Alderman lists the large number of states that now have border restrictions. Macedonian, following a decision over the weekend by Austria, Serbia and Croatia to restrict migrant entries, ruled that Afghans are economic immigrants and not refugees fleeing a war zone like their Iraqi and Syrian brothers and sisters. This comes at the same time that U.S. air power had to assist in restoring electricity to Kabul following Taliban attacks on transmission lines in Baghlan Province. Civilian casualties are up, peace talks led by Afghanistan, China, Pakistan and the United states are going nowhere and the Taliban continues to gobble up territory. It is a wonder that there aren't more Afghans fleeing to Europe.

The effect of Macedonia's decision is to push the refugees back into Greece. One could see this coming once Merkel's fantasy of having Turkey warehouse the flotsam from the West's wars repeatedly failed to launch. Now, barring a D-Day-type naval flotilla in the Aegean to block the refugees, Greece will be under great pressure to remain a viable, functioning state. As Alderman reports,
The backup of migrants was increasing the strain on Greece, which has become a focal point in the crisis. European Union officials have demanded that Athens take steps to tighten screening and slow the flow of refugees, many of whom are hoping to reach Germany, or risk suspension from the Schengen zone. 
Greece, which is reeling from a prolonged economic crisis, has protested that it lacks the funds to carry out the task adequately and was overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of people crossing the Aegean Sea from Turkey, despite a pledge from Ankara to curb migrant flows in exchange for 3 billion euros, or about $3.3 billion, in aid from the European Union. 
Only in the past two weeks has Greece opened several so-called hot spot facilities on the islands where migrants are most likely to arrive. But Athens has faced a sharp outcry from locals on some of those islands, such as Kos and Leros, who say they fear that the new centers, which are used to register and hold migrants until their applications are sorted out, will turn into permanent holding camps. 
Greece is the most popular entry point into Europe for hundreds of thousands of migrants from Iraq, Syria and elsewhere. More than 56,000 migrants arrived in Greece by sea in January alone, 10 times the number in the same period last year. In the first three weeks of this year, at least 113 people died trying to make the sea crossing to Europe, the International Organization for Migration said, compared with 94 a year earlier. 
Underlining the risks of the influx for Greece, the president of the European Parliament warned this week that the country risked becoming a “parking lot” for migrants unless the European Union moved to put in effect a plan to resettle thousands of migrants stuck there and in Italy.
There has been no let-up despite the winter. With the partial truce declared for Syria a likely dud, a U.S. invasion of Libya in the works and, according to this morning's "Situation Report" by Paul McLeary and Adam Rawnsley, the battle to reconquer Mosul set to begin, the number of refugees later this spring and summer will be overwhelmingly:
The road to Mosul. The Iraqi army will likely need to deploy between eight and 12 army brigades to liberate Mosul from the grip of the Islamic State, according to a U.S. general in charge of training Iraqi forces.
“We are making plans for Mosul,” U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Richard Clarke, commander of Combined Joint Forces Land Component Command in Iraq, told reporters at the Pentagon via teleconference from Baghdad Tuesday. “We’re doing that each and every day.” The exact number of troops is still in flux, as Iraqi brigades can range in size from about 2,000 to 3,000 soldiers.
U.S. troops deployed near ISIS territory. A handful of American troops are already in place near Mosul, and have been setting up a forward operating base from which Iraqi troops will launch any future assault on the city. The Nineveh Operations Center in the small village of Makhmour will eventually house about 4,500 Iraqi soldiers who will be in the lead of the fight for Mosul. The base also houses a new command center for the Iraqi army’s 15th Division, which ran through an American-led training program last year.
And Iraqi officials look ready to go. Defense Minister Khaled al-Obaidi said earlier this month that Iraqi forces expect to start the Mosul operation “no later than the first half of this year,” while Prime Minister Haider al Abadi has predicted that 2016 would see a “final victory” against the group.
Schengen, already dead de facto, will be officially suspended. Without passport-free travel you can't claim there is a European Union. A Brexit is coming. Trump is on the rise. Can Le Pen be far behind?

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Ghouta Redux and the Coming Western Invasion of Libya

There is little reason to expect that the "cessation of hostilities" in Syria, agreed to by the United States and Russia, which is to go into effect on Saturday, will be anymore successful than the Munich agreement of the week before last. The main reason is that both ceasefires are based on the fiction that there is a clear dividing line between the U.S./Saudi-backed forces on the one hand and those of Al Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra on the other. The U.S.-Russian truce applies to neither Nusra nor ISIS; hence, the Syrian Arab Army and its Russian and Iranian allies can bomb both Salafist groups. And that is where the problem lies: U.S./Saudi forces are largely indistinguishable from Nusra on the battlefield. So while Russia and Syria can interpret bombing Nusra as in compliance with the truce, the Saudis and their neocon backers in the U.S. will cry foul. In other words, nothing will have changed.

There is an interesting story in today's paper by Celestine Bohlen, "A Turning Point for Syrian War, and U.S. Credibility." French foreign minister Laurent Faubius, having recently resigned his post, is blaming Obama for destroying the Pax Americana global order by failing to bomb Damascus to smithereens following the false flag Ghouta sarin attack of August 2013. Fabius blames everything that followed -- Russia's annexation of Crimea, the rise of ISIS, the refugee crisis in Europe -- on Obama's fecklessness.

This keening over the lost opportunity of Ghouta is nothing new. There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth by the national security power elite when Obama decided to go to Congress to get authorization to illegally bomb Syria, a political exigency for the Noble laureate who owed his presidency to not having supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq. But Ghouta has recently reappeared as the key moment that destroyed the status quo, and it is hardening into settled opinion. As Bohlen explains,
Charges of American “passivity” have been a common theme of late at international conferences, where diplomats, foreign policy analysts and journalists play what the French newspaper Le Monde called the “blame game” for the catastrophic situation in Syria. 
For his part, Mr. Fabius, a former prime minister who left the Foreign Ministry to head the French Constitutional Council, hasn’t hesitated to point the finger at various targets. He has accused Mr. President Bashar al-Assad of Syria of “brutality,” Iran and Russia of “complicity,” and the United States of “ambiguity.” 
Criticism of Mr. Obama’s perceived lack of follow-through in Syria is oft-repeated in Paris; what’s new is that a former foreign minister, among others, is calling the United States’ decision in 2013 a world-changing event. 
François Heisbourg, chairman of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a think tank based in London, compared the moment to the Austro-Hungarian annexation of Bosnia in 1908, an event seen in hindsight as helping to set the stage for World War I. 
Similarly, Mr. Obama’s reversal in 2013 “is one of those turning points in history where you see the power shift,” Mr. Heisbourg said in an interview. 
By refusing to enforce the red line, Mr. Obama did “enormous, perhaps irretrievable” damage to American credibility, Mr. Heisbourg said. 
“He did it because he didn’t want to do the strikes,” Mr. Heisbourg added. “He was caught in flagrante committing a supreme act of fecklessness.” 
According to both Mr. Heisbourg and, it seems, Mr. Fabius, there were global consequences to Mr. Obama’s inaction, most notably in Russia’s annexation of Crimea the following year, even though Moscow in its public rhetoric continues to accuse Washington of throwing its weight around in an imperial manner. 
Mr. Heisbourg said the “fecklessness” of 2013 had been recognized and interpreted in numerous capitals, not just Paris, as a low point for American power and influence.

“This is not just about the irritated French,” he said. “It goes much deeper.”
“The next U.S. president is going to have to demonstrate early on — in circumstances that he or she would have preferred to avoid — that this was an Obama moment, not an America moment,” he said. 
Although Mr. Fabius expressed regret that “the world didn’t follow France’s position” and punish Mr. Assad for using chemical weapons, others are unconvinced that intervention would have changed the course of the Syrian civil war. In fact, it has been noted in the press that Mr. Fabius’s parting shot at the United States may have been an attempt to deflect criticism of France’s own diplomatic failures in the region. 
Western intervention in Libya, led by France and Britain, has created only greater instability there, while the war in Yemen, waged by Middle Eastern proxies with no overt Western involvement, continues unabated, suggesting no easy answers anywhere in the region.
First, the mainstream press, following the six-month period when the issue of who was actually responsible for the sarin attack was hotly debated, a debate that was won by The London Review of Books when it published Seymour Hersh's "Whose Sarin?" -- evidence points to Nusra not the Syrian government -- blithely went about its business as a broadsheet for Western intelligence services and kept repeating the now-debunked claim that Assad was to blame for the chemical attack.

Next, there is no doubt, as the red-bold quote above makes clear, that the next U.S. president is going to have to atone for Obama's "passivity" by committing to yet another war theater. This will be Libya. Moves are already being made. Read Eric Schmitt's frontpager from yesterday, "U.S. Scrambles to Contain Growing ISIS Threat in Libya." Afghanistan is a lost cause. Russia is in Syria; so the U.S. can't throw down there. Iraq is a charnel house and a massive re-invasion would be politically unpopular in the homeland. Libya is ready-made; plus, it has huge oil reserves. Hillary will take us there for sure, as would Trump, and probably even Sanders. Perpetual war is here to stay. The new dispensation should be called Bellum Americana.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Who Won the Hispanic Vote in Nevada?

As to be expected, The New York Times is tattooing the Sanders campaign as a sure loser following Hillary's solid victory on Saturday in the Nevada caucuses. Nevada was important for Bernie, and in many ways it seemed ready-made for his anti-establishment candidacy, given the state's higher-than-average union density and its long suffering since the 2008 financial meltdown. But Hillary beat him, and she beat him handily in Clark County, home to Las Vegas and its heavy Latino population and its union casino workers.

And herein lies a mystery. Based on entrance and exit polling, Bernie won the Latino vote in Saturday's caucus by eight points. Then how is it that Hillary beat him by 11 points in Clark County? This has created a kerfuffle with number-cruncher Nate Cohn, "No, the Polling Doesn’t Prove Bernie Sanders Won the Hispanic Vote in Nevada," rejecting the polls. Charles Blow summarizes in his anti-Bernie column, "Bernie Sanders Hits a Roadblock":
According to the entrance poll, Sanders also won the Hispanic vote, but this is where some prominent poll watchers took exception to the poll’s accuracy. 
The New York Times’s Nate Cohn tweeted
“Based on the results in Clark, the precincts in ELV, and the overall entrance poll error, I do not believe Sanders won the Hispanic vote.” 
ELV, or East Las Vegas, is the largely Hispanic part of Clark County, by far the most populous county in the state, where actual results showed Clinton winning handily
Nate Silver tweeted support for Cohn’s analysis: 
“We share @nate cohn skepticism about entrance poll finding that Clinton lost Hispanics in Nevada.”
I think this anomaly can be explained by a passage from the post-election dispatch written by Amy Chozick and Patrick Healy, "Hillary Clinton Beats Bernie Sanders in Nevada Caucuses":
Her support among labor also ran deep, even though the Culinary Workers Union, which represents 57,000 members, many of whom are Latino, declined to endorse a candidate. But on Thursday, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, who also remained neutral, said in an interview he had spoken to D. Taylor, the head of the union’s parent group, to make sure its members could have paid time off to participate in the caucuses, a move that operatives in the state believed helped tip the race in Mrs. Clinton’s favor. 
She overwhelmingly defeated Mr. Sanders in the caucuses that were held at six major Las Vegas casinos, including Harrah’s, the Wynn and New York-New York, which heavily drew working-class minority voters.
Caucuses are not secret ballots. Leadership of the Culinary Workers Union, despite a professed neutrality, got time loss for its members to caucus for Hillary. The members did so, but many on the way in and on the way out identified as Bernie supporters. That is why there is a disconnect between the polling and the actual outcome in Clark County.

What does it all mean? Certainly not how Team Clinton is spinning the win this morning as somehow foreshadowing an inevitable triumph in the primary. Hillary won 19 delegates to Bernie's 14. That's it. Even Cohn sees the Nevada results as proof that the Sanders campaign has reason to hope he can diminish Hillary's advantage among people of color:
The actual election returns in Las Vegas’s Clark County hint at a different story. Analyzed neighborhood by neighborhood, they suggest that Mrs. Clinton might have won the Hispanic vote by a comfortable margin. She won about 60 percent of delegates in heavily Hispanic areas, a result that calls the finding of the polling into question.

There is not much evidence, though, that Mrs. Clinton won Hispanic voters by the sort of landslide margin that she did eight years ago. That’s a good sign for Mr. Sanders, who needs to make up for the huge swing among black voters, who have gone from uniformly for President Obama to uniformly for Mrs. Clinton.
So we need to take with a grain of salt Patrick Healy's frontpage headline this morning, "Delegate Count Leaving Bernie Sanders With Steep Climb." There is plenty within the guts of Healy's story which should give the Clintonistas pause:
Mrs. Clinton has 502 delegates to Mr. Sanders’s 70; 2,383 are needed to win the nomination. These numbers include delegates won in state contests and superdelegates, who can support any candidate. She is likely to win a delegate jackpot from the overwhelmingly black and Hispanic areas in the Southern-dominated Super Tuesday primaries on March 1, when 11 states will vote and about 880 delegates will be awarded. 
Since delegates are awarded proportionally based on vote tallies in congressional districts and some other areas, only blowout victories yield large numbers of delegates. And Mrs. Clinton is better positioned than Mr. Sanders to win big in more delegate-rich districts, like those carved out to ensure minority Democrats in Congress, where she remains popular.
“She could effectively end the race in less than two weeks’ time on Super Tuesday,” said David Wasserman, a top analyst for The Cook Political Report, who has been closely tracking the delegate race. 
Of course, politics is unpredictable, as this cycle’s presidential campaign has demonstrated. Mrs. Clinton will face questions about her candidacy, including the outcome of an F.B.I. investigation into the use of a private email server while she was secretary of state. And Mr. Sanders has shown an ability to create grass-roots excitement in surprising places.
Still, while Mrs. Clinton is far from reaching 2,383 delegates, she is poised to create the sort of mathematical quandary for Mr. Sanders that she faced in 2008. That winter, Barack Obama used an 11-state winning streak to establish a lead of 100 delegates that Mrs. Clinton was never able to surmount. While a similar streak is unlikely this year, advisers to Mr. Sanders concede that Mrs. Clinton could generate a significant delegate lead now that she has momentum from her Nevada win. But they say they are not out of the running. 
“The Clintons can get a delegate lead quicker than we can, and they have a way to gut out the delegate fight,” said Tad Devine, a senior adviser to Mr. Sanders. “We have to turn victories in state after state into big momentum that can change the numbers.” 
Mrs. Clinton already has a huge lead over Mr. Sanders in support from superdelegates — elected officials and party elders who each count toward the magic number of 2,383. But superdelegates could switch candidates if Mr. Sanders is the overwhelming choice of regular voters. 
For now, Mrs. Clinton is focused on building her lead among so-called pledged delegates — those awarded proportionally by congressional districts from primary and caucus results. Mr. Sanders is aiming to score wins in states like Massachusetts and Minnesota while holding Mrs. Clinton to narrow wins elsewhere. Small margins of victory keep delegate allocations roughly even. A New York Times analysis found that Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Sanders are tied in the pledged delegate count, at 51 each.
The support for Bernie is not going to evaporate. It is hardcore. It provides a solid foundation of funds and grassroots all across the country. For example, I attended a "Labor for Bernie" rally yesterday at 4 PM -- this is 4 PM on a Sunday afternoon, a time when a lot of people are doing grocery shopping and getting ready for the work week -- and the hall was packed. More chairs repeatedly had to be hauled in to accommodate the overflow. Several state legislators were in prominent attendance. This is not a Howard Dean type of movement that is going to suddenly collapse. This is a long haul operation of people who want to tear down a system that is multiplying wars and planetary destruction faster than most can track.

The fight is just getting started. What happens, as Healy alludes, when the FBI comes back with evidence of wrongdoing? How about the transcriptions of those Goldman speeches? Hillary's corpse might appear reanimated but the stench is still there.

As for Trump, only the most committed dead-enders can deny the obvious: After Super Tuesday the GOP nomination will be Trump's.

The fantasy being peddled by Republican apparatchiks is that the race will turn into a two-way contest between Rubio and Trump, and Trump, who has never proven that he can muster much more than 30%, will fall to the more centrist candidate. This is all summarized in Nate Silver's "Trump Optimists And Trump Skeptics Are About To Go To War."

The problem with this analysis is that it assumes Cruz is going to get out the race, and he is not. He's got too much money.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Hippies vs. Punks: Earth, Wind & Fire's That's the Way of the World (1975)

Earth, Wind & Fire founder Maurice White died at the beginning of the month, adding his name to the list of influential artists -- David Bowie, Glenn Frey and Paul Kantner -- who have passed so far in this young year and who also dominated the radio in the important Hippies vs. Punks year of 1975.

Nineteen-seventy-five is important because it is the year that the present global neoliberal paradigm takes root and begins its rigorous extirpation of post-WWII social democracy. Most if not all important indices -- union density, inflation-adjusted hourly wages, workforce share in productivity gains -- mark the middle 1970s as the beginning of U.S. working-class decline. It is no coincidence that the mid-70s are the time that the Punks arrive on the scene to begin their extermination of what remains of the Hippies (think Patti Smith's Horses, released at the same time, the end of 1975, as Earth, Wind & Fire's live album, Gratitude).

In the latest issue of Jacobin there is an interview with UCLA historian Robert Brenner, "The Dynamics of Retreat," that adds some context to why it is that 1975 is such a critical year:
This surge of working-class resistance did slow the employers’ offensive and the revival of profitability. But the deep recession of 1974–75 brought a major reversal, specifically a major increase in unemployment that sapped worker energy and reduced combativeness. The way was thus opened to round after round of wage restraint and spending cuts that, sooner or later, received the backing of the official social-democratic and labor leaderships in every country. 
Did it all have to collapse? Was there a reformist path out of the contradictions that you’re talking about? Or can we say that, unless there had been some kind of anticapitalist break sometime in the 1970s, we were unlikely to prevent the situation we’re suffering through today?
I do think it’s clear today that, short of the overthrow of the capitalist order, there were powerful economic and political pressures that make it unsurprising that we’ve ended up where we are.
On the one hand, the economic responses of capital itself to its profitability problem have only made things worse. The reduced rate of return has decreased the incentives for capitalists to invest and employ. It has, at the same time, motivated capital and the state to cut back on the growth of compensation and social spending so as to jack up profits by reducing the cost of production. The outcome has been ever-slower growth in demand for investment goods, consumer goods, and state services, and this has put further downward pressures on the rate of return.
There it is. Hippies vs. Punks in a nutshell. In 1975 we needed the Hippies to be bold and power an anti-capitalist revolution. But the Hippies were far past the point of offering even the tiniest resistance; they were too busy wallowing in the corporate trough. In 1975 the Hippies cloaked their abject capitulation to the predatory capitalist order with appeals to mysticism, libertinism or esoteric Eastern religiosity. Enter the Punks. Hallelujah.

The big breakthrough #1 album for Maurice White and Earth, Wind & Fire is That's the Way of the World. Released at the end of winter in 1975, the album was also a soundtrack to a Sid Shore film of the same name, written by Robert Lipsyte and starring the great Harvey Keitel.

You couldn't go anywhere in a car with the radio on in 1975 without hearing "Shining Star" or "That's the Way of the World," the two big singles off the album. As a kid I liked both. As for Earth, Wind & Fire, the group struck me as magnificent black Hippies. The size of band was intimidating, as was Maurice White's incorporation of the exotic sounds of the Frankiphone, an electronically amplified kalimba (African thumb piano), backed up by a horn section, spiced with the immaculate R&B guitar of Al McKay. To a white Hippie kid 6th grader living in the Santa Cruz mountains, being driven by his parents with the car radio always on a half hour each way to and from town, Earth, Wind & Fire was a revolution unto itself.

Listening to That's the Way of the World all week -- and a truly stressful week it was -- I was surprised what a masterpiece the record is. Yes, there are the hit singles, which are flawless. But there is also an amazing -- no lie -- breadth of material. Songs like "All About Love," "Reasons" and "See the Light" showcase jazz fusion, disco, prog rock, Billy Paul Philly Soul and traditional African music. No better encapsulation of Hippie sensibility in the mid-70s can be found than Maurice White's rap about radiating the inner-beauty of the self in "All About Love":
Now, I want you to stop whatever you're doing.
You're doing. Just stop.
You know, they say there' s beauty
in the eyes which I say is not the fact.
'Cause you are as beautiful as your
thoughts, right on.

You know, for instance, we study all
kinds of sciences, astrology, mysticism,
religion, so forth you dig.
And like coming from hip place, all these things help
because they give you insight into  your inner self
Have mercy!

Now. there's an outer self we got to deal with
the one that likes to go to parties,
one that likes to dress up and be cool
and look pretty, all ego-trips and all this.

Hear you all, I'm trying to tell you,
you gotta love you. And learn all the beautiful things around you,
trees and birds. And if there ain't no beauty,
you got to make some beauty. Have mercy!
Listen to me, Yeah!
There it is in a nutshell once again. By the mid-70s Hippies -- both black and white -- had given up the hope of building a better world on top of the wreckage of the technocratic war machine in favor of accommodation fueled by a mass narcotic self-love.

Don't get me wrong. This is an incredibly fertile period for the Hippies, this dying time bardo state of the middle 1970s. Classic rock bursts forth, like Minerva from the brow of Zeus, during these few years as a powerful opiate which maintains a grip on the masses under Reagan, Thatcher, Bush, Clinton and Blair.

We'll wind down this contemplation of 1975 next week with a look at the classic rockers par excellence, The Eagles.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Afghanistan: Narco-State

Azam Ahmed has a long piece in today's paper, "Tasked With Combating Opium, Afghan Officials Profit From It," about the Afghan narco-state. He focuses primarily on Garmsir, a district in Helmand Province, a.k.a., Poppystan, that was ground zero for Obama's 2010 troop surge and that is still under government control. The story provides yet more proof of the deep failure of the U.S. project in Afghanistan:
GARMSIR, Afghanistan — The United States spent more than $7 billion in the past 14 years to fight the runaway poppy production that has made Afghan opium the world’s biggest brand. Tens of billions more went to governance programs to stem corruption and train a credible police force. Countless more dollars and thousands of lives were lost on the main thrust of the war: to put the Afghan government in charge of district centers and to instill rule of law.
But here in one of the few corners of Helmand Province that is peaceful and in firm government control, the green stalks and swollen bulbs of opium were growing thick and high within eyeshot of official buildings during the past poppy season — signs of a local narco-state administered directly by government officials.
In the district of Garmsir, poppy cultivation not only is tolerated, but is a source of money that the local government depends on. Officials have imposed a tax on farmers practically identical to the one the Taliban use in places they control.
Some of the revenue is kicked up the chain, all the way to officials in Kabul, the capital, ensuring that the local authorities maintain support from higher-ups and keeping the opium growing. And Garmsir is just one example of official involvement in the drug trade.
Multiple visits to Afghan opium country over the past year, and extensive interviews with opium farmers, local elders, and Afghan and Western officials, laid bare the reality that even if the Western-backed government succeeds, the opium seems here to stay.
More than ever, Afghan government officials have become directly involved in the opium trade, expanding their competition with the Taliban beyond politics and into a struggle for control of the drug traffic and revenue. At the local level, the fight itself can often look like a turf war between drug gangs, even as American troops are being pulled back into the battle on the government’s behalf, particularly in Helmand, in southern Afghanistan.
“There are phases of government complicity, starting with accommodation of the farmers and then on to cooperation with them,” said David Mansfield, a researcher who conducted more than 15 years of fieldwork on Afghan opium. “The last is predation, where the government essentially takes over the business entirely.”
The huge boom in poppy production that began a dozen years ago was strongly identified with the new Taliban insurgency, as the means through which the militants bought their bullets, bombs and vehicles. In recent years, the insurgents have committed more and more working hours to every facet of the opium business. That fact was built into a mantra of Western officials in Afghanistan: When security improves, opium will be easier to take down.
That the Afghan government is now also competing in the opium business, in the absence of other reliable economic successes, has ramifications beyond the nation’s borders. Governments across the region are struggling with the health and security problems brought by the increased opium flow. And as the trade becomes more institutionalized in Afghanistan, it has undercut years of anticorruption efforts, perpetuating its status as a source of regional instability, crime and intrigue.
Of course, eradicating the opium trade in Afghanistan, which feeds heroin consumption worldwide, was one of the justifications for the U.S./NATO occupation; that, along with freeing Afghan women from brutal patriarchy. The U.S.-created Afghan government has failed in both, as well as in it anticorruption efforts.

Militarily things are not going well either for the United States. Civilian casualties were at an all-time high in 2015 as the Taliban is on the march north and south, now with more stolen U.S. hardware.

What amazes me is that there is no push-back from Congress or whatever tattered rump is left of the antiwar movement. (Is there an antiwar movement?) So The New York Times can publish one devastating story after another and it doesn't matter. Regardless of its failure there, the U.S. remains committed to Afghanistan. Obama is hoping the clock runs out on his administration before the Taliban achieves a clear military breakthrough. Then it will be someone else's problem.

Scarlet Witch #1

Scarlet Witch is another new Marvel title which features a woman. Women are on the rise and Marvel is taking note. New superhero titles like Drax and Hercules showcase well-meaning slow-thinking beefcakes, or even a bloodthirsty sociopath in the case of Carnage. Marvel's super-heroines are generally more thoughtful.

Scarlet Witch #1, written by James Robinson with incredible art by Vanesa Del Ray, does an excellent job summing up why we are experiencing this burst of the feminine. As Wanda Maximoff, the Scarlet Witch, muses to herself walking the New York City streets:
My power -- the ability I got at birth -- allows me to break the laws of physics and scientific absolutes.
Levitation, transformation, teleportation and such.
I've often heard the spells I cast referred to as chaos magic.
. . . But in actual fact they're far from "chaotic" -- their power and intensity are linked to the energy of the Earth and womankind --
-- Revered by ancient pagan faiths --
-- Feared by men.
As the Western world starts its collapse, there is a longing for fertility, for femininity to heal all the war and extinction of the Anthropocene.

Below are six scans from Scarlet Witch #1.

Monday, February 15, 2016

U.S. Support of Al Qaeda Now Openly Acknowledged in "Newspaper of Record"

There has been some remarkably good reporting in the mainstream press since the Kerry-Lavrov deal in Munich last week announced a cessation of hostilities in Syria. If one has been paying attention since Friday -- not distracted by the big blocks of print on the Zika virus, the death of Antonin Scalia or Pope Francis' Mexico visit -- the information is ready at hand to discern the abysmal mess in which we are situated by the leaders of the Western world.

A good place to start is Alison Smale's  concise "Syria Accord Looms Over Europe Security Meeting," which appears in this morning's national edition of The New York Times. Smale reports from Munich's annual security conference. Two of the big headlines generated by the conference were 1) Russian prime minister Dmitri Medvedev warning Europe about the West's reboot of the Cold War, and 2) France's refusal to participate in the German plan to redistribute refugees among EU member nations.

What makes Smale's story helpful and refreshingly clear is that she articulates the origin the two issues above -- the New Cold War and the disintegration of the Europe's Schengen Agreement -- as the Turkish-backed false flag sarin attack in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta followed by Obama's decision to accept Lavrov's offer to have Syria relinquish its chemical weapons stockpile (rather than bombing the Assad government into an unlikely submission):
Other speakers at the conference singled out the Obama administration for failing to act in 2013 after Mr. Obama said the use of chemical weapons by Mr. Assad would cross a “red line” that demanded American action. 
Back then, Russia again intervened, using its influence to get Mr. Assad to agree to put all chemical weapons under United Nations supervision for removal and destruction. Mr. McCain said that that move had destroyed Washington’s credibility, particularly with Saudi Arabia, who he claimed had planes ready to fly air raids on Syria when Mr. Obama accepted the Russian-backed plan on chemical weapons.
Since the summer of 2013 things have gone from bad to worse. ISIS took Fallujah and Raqqah in January 2014. Neo-Nazis took control of the Kiev in a February coup that year, while in June ISIS captured Mosul in a blitzkrieg.

The Obama administration and its allies among the Gulf monarchies have worked tirelessly to bolster the jihadis and the fascists. The principal canard, the "big lie," is that the United States is aiding a "moderate" opposition. For instance, during both the Democratic and Republican debates last week, Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush attacked the evil Putin for bombing "the moderate opposition" in Aleppo. Neither the moderators, nor the other candidates (other than Trump saying, "We don't know who we are bombing.") corrected Bush-Clinton by pointing out, as Smale does in her piece today, and what has been regularly mentioned in press accounts since the Munich ceasefire was announced last week, that Aleppo is controlled by Syrian Al Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra:
As for a pause in fighting, [Staffan de Mistura, United Nations mediator for Syria] said he expected it to apply to “all areas of Syria except for areas controlled by ISIS and Al Nusra,” referring to the Islamic State militant group and the Nusra Front, which the United States and Russia regard as terrorist groups.
That provision would allow Russian and Syrian forces to continue airstrikes over parts of Aleppo, where Nusra fighters are thought to be present. A State Department official said last week that different rebel groups are “intermingled” on the battlefield.
Or this from a Q. & A. by Karen Zraick and Anne Barnard, "Syrian War Could Turn on the Battle for Aleppo," that appeared in Sunday's paper:
The rebel groups that the West considers relatively moderate are strongest around Aleppo. But they are intertwined in places with the Nusra Front, which is linked to Al Qaeda and which the United States and Russia both consider a terrorist group. The deal reached in Munich, for a “cessation of hostilities,” leading to a cease-fire, excludes the Nusra Front and Islamic State. 
The rest of Aleppo Province is a patchwork of zones of control. Kurds have the area around Afrin in the northwest, Islamic State holds the east, the government and its allies have advanced in the south, and other insurgent groups hold the west.
Or this from an Anne Barnard story, "In Syria, Skepticism That Cease-Fire Will Stop Fighting,"
that appeared on Saturday:
With the proviso that the Nusra Front, Al Qaeda’s branch in Syria, can still be bombed, Russia puts the United States in a difficult position; the insurgent groups it supports cooperate in some places with the well-armed, well-financed Nusra in what they say is a tactical alliance of necessity against government forces. So Russia can argue that many of them are, in effect, Nusra affiliates.
Never has there been such a sustained, day-after-day acknowledgement in the flagship of the U.S. press, The New York Times, that the United States is is engaging in military combat alongside its "existential foe." In the past, there have been stories about the Free Syrian Army giving up their U.S.-supplied MANPADS and armored vehicles to Nusra, and there have always been mentions scattered here and there about CIA-backed rebels participating in Jaish al-Fatah, the Army of Conquest, the main fighting group in northern Syria led by Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham, another Salafist outfit, but nothing like the open acknowledgement following the Munich announcement of cessation of hostilities.

In other words, for anyone paying attention (members of Congress?) there is a clear, public record that the United States is -- despite the post-9/11 Authorization for the Use of Military Force which justifies its military presence in Iraq and Syria because the nation is at war with Al Qaeda and its affiliates -- operating in a military alliance with an Al Qaeda affiliate.

It is an upside down, chaotic, destabilizing situation that the U.S.-Saudi war on Syria has created. Turkey, as Alison Smale mentions, is now shelling the Kurdish forces that are the principal military ally of the Obama administration in its fight against ISIS:
Highlighting the complexity of the situation in Syria, Turkey over the weekend shelled positions held by a Kurdish militia that is backed by the United States in northern Syria. Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency said Turkish artillery units fired at Kurdish fighters in the Syrian town of Azaz in Aleppo Province, saying it was in response to incoming Kurdish fire, The Associated Press reported.
NATO-ally Turkey is at war with U.S.-proxy Kurdish militias.

And the upside-downess doesn't step there. Anne Barnard reported on Friday, "Death Toll From War in Syria Now 470,000, Group Finds," that the Kurds, who the Turks are now shelling, overran Minakh airbase outside Aleppo which was being held by CIA-backed rebels, creating a situation which the U.S. specializes in -- backing fighters on both sides of a conflict:
The airstrikes on Tal Rifaat, 17 miles south of the Turkish border, came a day after Bouthaina Shaaban, a longtime adviser to President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, told Reuters that Syrian troops would take back control of the Turkish border and reclaim the city of Aleppo. She rejected any talk of a cease-fire as an effort to aid terrorists.
Also advancing on the rebel-held northern countryside of Aleppo were fighters from the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, or S.D.F., a coalition the United States is backing to fight the Islamic State.
A group that is part of the S.D.F., called Jaish al-Thuwwar, or the Revolutionaries Army, took Minakh air base, which Islamist insurgents abandoned after Russian airstrikes. There were conflicting reports over whether the S.D.F. forces clashed with the insurgents or simply took ground that they had left undefended.
Those advances created the confusing picture of one American-backed force taking territory from allies of another American-backed force. Minakh was held by Islamist groups that had fought alongside the rebel groups deemed moderate enough to take part in a covert C.I.A. program providing salaries and weapons in cooperation with European and Middle Eastern allies.
That entanglement poses an increasingly thorny problem for Syrian insurgents and the United States, as Russia continues to reserve the right to hit not only Islamic State fighters but any group it sees as hard-line Islamists or that it deems affiliated with them.
Rebel groups accused the Kurdish-led S.D.F. of siding with the government and taking advantage of Russian airstrikes. But the group — dominated by fighters aligned with a Kurdish political party that recently opened an office in Moscow — issued statements saying that it was not working with the government but that it was seizing the land to prevent it from being taken by government forces.
The group told Syrian opposition outlets that it was helping civilians from rebel-held areas to pass through Kurdish-held areas to relative safety. Kurdish groups have generally sought to maintain a détente with all sides, focusing mainly on establishing semiautonomous zones along the Turkish border.
Also on Thursday, Russia accused the United States of bombing a clinic in Aleppo and blaming Russia. An American military spokesman said the allegation was fabricated and that no United States airstrikes had been carried out in Aleppo Province in the last day.
Back in the salad days of the present administration, Obama was frequently spoken of as a master of three-dimensional chess. Such talk largely stopped after the sequester and fiscal cliff negotiations revealed POTUS to be thoroughly wedded to the same old picture of the haves gorging themselves on the have-notes.

In Syria Obama has trapped himself between the sheikh-neocon delusion of a reinvigorated U.S.-Saudi regional hegemony and the reality of a rising multi-polar world led by Russia, China, India and Iran. Watch what happens to Europe in 2016 to see if the world is in store for more reality or more delusion. My guess, as the U.S.-project of a European Union continues its disintegration, is reality.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Hippies vs. Punks: David Bowie's Young Americans (1975)

I've been listening to David Bowie's Young Americans (1975), the album, along with Station to Station (1976), that stands as a tiny island between the land masses of Glam and the Berlin Trilogy in the Bowie oeuvre. Though I am not what I would call a Bowie expert (more an appreciative student), I would say that there is no other Bowie record that is like Young Americans, with its strange combination of Philadelphia Soul and Beatlephilia.

Christgau's review is illuminating:
David Bowie: Young Americans [RCA Victor, 1975]
This is a failure. The tunes make (Lennon-McCartney's) "Across the Universe" sound like a melodic highlight, and although the amalgam of English hard rock and Philly soul is so thin it's interesting, it often overwhelms David's voice, which is even thinner. But after the total alienation of Diamond Dogs and the total ripoff of David Live, I'm pleased with Bowie's renewed generosity of spirit--he takes pains to simulate compassion and risks failure simply by moving on. His reward is two successes: the title tune, in which pain stimulates compassion, and (Bowie-Lennon-Alomar's) "Fame," which rhymes with pain and makes you believe it. B-
Christgau likes the two hit singles, "Young Americans" and "Fame." (Bowie shares a writing credit on "Fame" with John Lennon and Carlos Alomar.) But the entire album is chock full of excellent material. "Fascination" and "Somebody Up There Likes Me," not to mention "Win," are particularly strong.

What has made an impression on me this past week listening to Young Americans is the extent to which the alto saxophone of David Sanborn dominates the album. The guitar is reduced to the high treble fills found in funk, and the resulting sound, with the backing vocals of Ava Cherry, Robin Clark and Luther Vandross, is a slick edgy urban soul, what Bowie called "plastic soul," and what most of us recognize from the Saturday Night Live Band, which debuted in 1975.

So there is a "present at the creation" quality to Young Americans. Commodified urban chic is the product being extruded.  If you want to hear what an aural leap Young Americans represents, listen to Diamond Dogs (1974) or Pin Ups (1973). Bowie was shrewd to abandon Glam when he did. By the middle 1970s Glam, soon to be lampooned in The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), had devolved into the same old arena rock god trap in which prog rockers found themselves.

My feeling is that Bowie has to be studied because he was an amazing synthesizer who had the ability to crystallize and commodify musical vapors swirling in the avant-garde. Basically the guy could do no wrong from 1969 to 1984. He popularized Glam and in so doing drove a stake in the heart of Hippie and his hopes that another world was possible. (After Let's Dance (1983) Bowie loses his mojo. I remember seeing him interviewed on television promoting his Glass Spider Tour. He was attempting one of his countless reinventions, this time as a Steve Jones Sex Pistols Punk rocker. Bowie had once again correctly identified the musical Zeitgeist. But at 40 years old in 1987, and famously androgynous in past personas, he could not pull it off. I remember thinking to myself, "Jesus, is that pathetic.")

Young Americans and its odd matrimony of Beatles and Philadelphia Soul is a one-off. The record strikes me as a conscious effort by Bowie to feed himself some sonic comfort food after starving the Hippies to death with Glam. It is his bon voyage to the 1960s, the best of which, Bowie is saying, are black music and the Beatles. (John Lennon's "Across the Universe" anchors side two of the album.)

Bowie would not tarry on "plastic soul." He would abandon Sigma Sound and Electric Lady for Cherokee Studios in Hollywood and the coked-out brilliance of Station to Station. Does a more bizarre song than "Golden Years" ever receive saturation airplay on AM radio?

Bowie retreats from the United States after Station to Station, relocating to the European continent to help remake popular music with Brian Eno. What we get is New Wave.

If anything, Young Americans and Station to Station, isolated and "islands in the stream"-like as they are in the Bowie oeuvre, buttress the Hippies vs. Punks hypothesis that in 1975 and 1976 something serious and dislocating happens in the West to set us on our current path to destruction. Let's hope the order that began to form back then cracks asunder in 2016.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Bloomberg Doomsday Scenario

The goalposts now move to Nevada and South Carolina where Hillary will attempt to remake herself as a champion of the black underclass, as Lambert Strether notes in his "Water Cooler":
“Clinton is set to campaign with the mothers of Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner, unarmed African-Americans who died in incidents involving a neighborhood watch representative and law enforcement officers, respectively. And the campaign, sources said, is expected to push a new focus on systematic racism, criminal justice reform, voting rights and gun violence that will mitigate concerns about her lack of an inspirational message” [Politico].
After failing to deliver a clear victory in Iowa or a decent showing in New Hampshire, Team Clinton, and the pundits of the mainstream, are banking on the allegiance of black and brown voters. With Republican voters seemingly ready to embrace Donald Trump whole hog, the ruling elite has a lot riding on Nevada and South Carolina. If she shows continued morbidity in these two states, March 1 Super Tuesday might not be the knockout blow for Sanders that Hillary's campaign is promising.

Yes, a lot is riding on the remaining weeks of February. Meanwhile, overseas Russia and Syria are routing the U.S. backed jihadis and U.S. clients, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, are having a tantrum. Enormous pressure is being put on the Obama administration to up the ante with either anti-aircraft missiles or ground troops. As Aleppo returns to government control, NATO warships will now patrol the Aegean to try to prevent more refugees from landing on European shores. In Afghanistan, U.S. ground troops are -- unbelievably -- back in Helmand Province to try to save Poppystan from falling completely to the Taliban.

Things are spinning out of control. In 2016 we should see some sort of dramatic paradigm shift (if we haven't already).

A doomsday scenario we can look for is an election tossed into the House of Representatives, something that hasn't occurred in the United States since the election of 1824 when John Quincy Adams was selected over the Donald Trump of the day, Andrew Jackson. This becomes a possibility if Mike Bloomberg runs for president as an independent. The latest news is that he is "itchin'" to make a go of it.

I don't think Bloomberg will run unless Hillary continues her collapse, which will begin in haste if her Dixie firewall collapses. Hillary now is the champion of a sick and dying global regime. Can her corpse continue its ambulatory miracle of reanimation? So far it has been less miracle and more smoke and mirrors. But money can turn the world upside down. Let's see what happens in Nevada.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

New Hampshire Post-Mortem: Hillary, a Corpse on Life Support + Trump's Apotheosis

While the United States might not be a closed society in the classic George Orwell 1984 police state sense, it is one where its inhabitants are subject to a great deal of centrally managed thought control. Every country propagandizes its own population. But the U.S. has long prided itself on its free press, enshrined as it is in the First Amendment to the Constitution.

This morning drove home to me the extent to which we do not have a free press. Waking up I went online to see what the vote totals were in New Hampshire. On the home page to the nation's newspaper, The New York Times, there was a modest headline "Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders Win in New Hampshire," with most of its related coverage devoted to Trump's victory. Nowhere can the reader easily find the normally ubiquitous color chart graphic of the vote total.

I cooked a pot of whole wheat pasta at 3:45 AM to kill time until I could amble downstairs to the front stoop where the national edition of The New York Times usually arrives by 4:15 AM. I wanted to see if the lack of statistical information about the New Hampshire results was replicated in the home edition of the paper. Sure enough it was.

Out of curiosity I took a brief spin around the World Wide Web. I couldn't find my way past the Wall Street Journal's paywall, but the Washington Post has the vote totals on its home page. Also, if you Google "New Hampshire results," you'll find them. You just wont find them readily available in "the newspaper of record."

Here they are: Bernie Sanders 60.0%, Hillary Clinton 38.3%. Trump won by 20 points too:
Donald Trump 35.2%, John Kasich 15.8, Ted Cruz 11.6%, Jeb Bush 11.1%, Marco Rubio 10.5%.

The Times, having recently endorsed Hillary, is of course doing everything it can to keep Sanders from enjoying a deserved bounce for his commanding victory in a state that has always been kind to the Clintons. As Patrick Healy summarizes online this morning in "New Hampshire Takeaways: Trust, Experience and Message Count":
New Hampshire Abandoned the Clintons
It is hard to overstate the magnitude of the New Hampshire loss for Mrs. Clinton and former President Bill Clinton. The state was a political bellwether for Mr. Clinton, putting him on the path toward the Democratic nomination in 1992 and backing him in the general elections that year and in 1996.
Voters again came through in a big way in 2008, when Mrs. Clinton won here and revived her candidacy after losing the Iowa caucuses to Barack Obama and John Edwards. But on Tuesday night, Mrs. Clinton lost New Hampshire’s big cities: Concord, Manchester and Nashua. She lost most of the small towns. She lost in the north country and the seacoast, along the western border and through the White Mountains.

She lost many major demographic groups, performing best among the older and wealthier, and among people who care about experience and electability in November. But these voters were small in number compared with Mr. Sanders’s legions. Mrs. Clinton won 112,404 votes in New Hampshire in 2008 in a tough race against Mr. Obama and Mr. Edwards; on Tuesday, she won about 89,000 to Mr. Sanders’s 139,000.
It should be apparent now that Hillary is a corpse animated by the millions in corporate donations and filthy lucre from the sheikhs of al-Saud. If she somehow manages to win the primary she will do so by tapping deep pools of public ignorance. And while normally it is never wise to underestimate the limited vision of the average voter, 2016 represents something different. Hillary is losing not only among the white working class, but women as well. So she can't even buttress her campaign with the the two pillars of her failed 2008 run. Let's go back to Healy:
Working-Class White Voters Are Up for Grabs
In the 2008 Democratic primaries, Mrs. Clinton beat Mr. Obama in Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and other states partly because of solid support from working-class white voters. But Mr. Sanders prevailed with these voters in New Hampshire on Tuesday. Sixty-eight percent of white noncollege graduates supported him, as did 65 percent of people from families earning less than $50,000. On the Republican side, the same groups of voters broke strongly for Mr. Trump. 
Mrs. Clinton says she thinks she can still win back these voters with her policy proposals for paid family leave and for capping prescription drug costs for some Americans, but so far she has not performed well with less affluent voters in New Hampshire or Iowa.
Democratic Women Aren’t Rallying Behind Clinton
Something went wrong between Mrs. Clinton and the women of New Hampshire. Mr. Sanders won 55 percent of their votes compared with Mrs. Clinton’s 44 percent, with married women and especially unmarried women breaking his way, according to exit polls. 
Those results rocked the Clinton campaign, given that Mrs. Clinton is running to become the first female president and enjoyed the support of many of the most powerful women in the state, including its governor and its Democratic senator. Moreover, women provided the margin of victory for Mrs. Clinton in her 2008 primary victory here. 
Clinton advisers are confident that her support will rebound with women in Nevada, South Carolina and the Super Tuesday states that vote on March 1. But some of Mrs. Clinton’s friends are nervous: They did not expect her to lose New Hampshire so badly, and for women to be such a big factor in her defeat.
Clinton is in real trouble. Hence the morning after blackout of her 20-point loss in the newspaper of record.

Another warning sign for Hillary is found in John Broder's "Primary Exit Polls Show Terror Fears Aided Trump and Young Voters Helped Sanders":
Mrs. Clinton topped Mr. Sanders by a wide margin among voters who said the next president should generally continue President Obama’s policies. But they accounted for only about four in 10 Democratic primary voters in New Hampshire — far fewer than in Iowa. Instead, just as many voters said the next president should change to more liberal policies — and eight in 10 of these voters backed Mr. Sanders. Almost two-thirds of Democratic voters said they support replacing the current health care system with a single taxpayer-funded plan for all Americans.
My way of thinking is that Obama is not all that popular among the Democratic base. Since Hillary has hitched her campaign wagon to him, it appears to be a losing strategy.

Needless to say Hillary's backers are starting to freak out. Team Clinton very well might lose Nevada, having beat Obama there in 2008. But Team Clinton is assuring its supporters that all will be right come Super Tuesday, possibly a sacrifice of campaign staff will be performed to appease the distraught.

As for Trump, Healy says:
Trump Voters Are Real
Mr. Trump led in many Iowa polls before the Feb. 1 caucuses, but he came in second place when it came time for the actual voting. That result raised questions about whether all the people crowding into Trump rallies were true-blue supporters or celebrity worshipers. 
But on Tuesday night, Mr. Trump’s supporters proved that they were committed and enthusiastic enough to turn out for their candidate. He won among first-time voters in a Republican primary, as expected. But he also won among Republicans, independents and people who have voted in past party primaries. 
He did especially well with voters who preferred candidates who “tell it like it is.” But he lost to Mr. Kasich, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and Mr. Bush among voters who wanted a candidate who “shares my values.” In the end, Mr. Trump won 30 to 40 percent of the vote among many demographic groups, showing that he can win primaries and caucuses when a large Republican field splits the vote.
Trump is popular in the South. Cruz has a lot of PAC money supporting him. Unless Establishment donors give up their "hot chick" obsession with Marco Rubio and coalesce behind Kasich, Trump and Cruz are going to continue to lead the field.

As for the Democratics, let's look and see what happens at the Nevada caucuses come February 20. Rank'n'file labor activists are overwhelming behind Bernie.