Friday, August 26, 2016

Scott Shane's "Saudis and Extremism": Mostly More of the Same

Now, because of the cumulative stresses of work, that I have abandoned almost entirely the discipline of waking up at 4:00 a.m. to read the newspaper and then record a few comments here, I wonder how I was able to do it for more than three years.

Reading Scott Shane's lengthy "Secrets of the Kingdom" expose, "Saudis and Extremism: ‘Both the Arsonists and the Firefighters’," was truly enervating. Shane, who appeared in cameo on The Wire's final season, is usually given edgy assignments by "the newspaper of record." He lays out everything we basically already know about the House of Saud's export of Wahhabism worldwide.

If you have a half hour, I'd say the story is worth your time, if only because it establishes how Saudi Wahhabism is suffocating local, multi-sect, tolerant, syncretic Islam. War promises to be an ever-expanding reality.

But Shane blunts the impact of the piece by regularly spicing his reporting with caveats from Saudi-friendly academics and diplomats that there is little or no evidence that Salafist violence is directly linked to Saudi charitable support for Wahhabism. The overall effect is to create a blur, an "Oh, it is all so complex. We'll never know for sure. The poor Saudi royals are such easy targets."

Shane never references his past reporting connecting the Saudis to 9/11 and Al Qaeda, nor anything about the recent declassification of the 28 pages from the congressional investigation that strongly implicates a Saudi official with aiding 9/11 hijackers.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Third Party Daydream

The latest frontpager about Hillary's email improprieties has to do with the FBI's discovery of 15,000 previously unreleased emails, "As a result, thousands of emails that Mrs. Clinton did not voluntarily turn over to the State Department last year could be released just weeks before the election in November."

No doubt these new emails will reaffirm the Judicial Watch findings that Hillary's State Department was an influence peddling arena for the Clinton Foundation. Foreign governments made substantial donations to the Clinton Foundation, and then Clinton Foundation officials made requests of the State Department on behalf of their donors:
The group [Judicial Watch] said that the 725 pages of documents it released Monday demonstrated efforts by the Clinton family foundation to leverage its influence with Mrs. Clinton. The emails, drawn from Ms. Abedin, included an appeal by Douglas Band, a Clinton Foundation executive, for Mrs. Clinton to meet with Bahrain’s crown prince, whose family had contributed millions of dollars to the foundation. 
“Good friend of ours,” Mr. Band wrote. 
Ms. Abedin, after expressing Mrs. Clinton’s reluctance to schedule a meeting “until she knows how she will feel,” then wrote back to Mr. Band to offer the crown prince an appointment the next morning. She encouraged Mr. Band to let the prince know, “if you see him,” though she said the State Department had also contacted him through official channels.
This is how government works. Businesses, wealthy foreign powers, buy access and influence policy. At this point it should be obvious to anyone that has followed Syria since the Arab Spring uprisings that U.S. foreign policy is dictated by the Gulf monarchies. The same goes for other Western powers. Notice this blurb from this morning's Situation Report:
France may be lending military support to the Saudi-led coalition's war in Yemen, according to new satellite imagery. War Is Boring reports that hangars consistent with French designs show up in the latest Google Earth imagery of the United Arab Emirates-run Assab air base in Eritrea, which is used as a transshipment hub to support the war in Yemen against the Houthi movement. Little is known about what's in the hangars, but the distinctly French constructions follow a series of supportive recent statements from French leaders about the country's commitments to its Gulf allies.
One truly positive development that could come out of a steady stream of reporting about Clinton corruption -- now that it is apparent that Trump is headed for a huge loss in November -- is that third party vote totals will increase dramatically. Can we hope for 5-10 percent in the general election for Libertarians and Greens? I am skeptical. It would be the equivalent of the Second Coming. But as August comes to an end why not indulge a daydream?

Monday, August 15, 2016

Russophobia Part of Hillary's Strategy to Secure the White House

Autumn is little more than a month away, and so far it has been a bizarre summer. The national conventions of the duopoly proved to be non-events. If not for WikiLeaks' release of DNC emails, the only news would have been Bernie's abject surrender to the forces against which he had led his electoral revolt. (Jeffrey St. Clair had a hilarious piece over the weekend, "Roaming Charges: the Return of Assassination Politics," about Sanders purchasing a new waterfront house in Vermont.)

Since the close of the Democratic convention, each day Trump has been relentlessly attacked on the frontpage of The New York Times. This morning it is a story about how Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort received over $12 million from ousted Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych's Party of Regions. This seems more like the junta in Kiev doing a solid for the U.S. permanent government that approved the 2014 coup, a permanent government that is all in for Hillary, than anything particularly illuminating about Manafort. U.S. politicos, both Democratic and Republican, sell their services abroad for top dollar. There was even a Hollywood movie starring Sandra Bullock, Our Brand is Crisis (2015), about it.

Bob Miller was good enough to provide some links in his comments yesterday: a terrific interview with author Russ Bellant, "Seven Decades of Nazi Collaboration: America’s Dirty Little Ukraine Secret," that appeared in The Nation shortly after the coup in Kiev, and a PDF of an old issue of Covert Action Information Bulletin, "Friendly Enemies: The CIA in Eastern Europe."

It is a sordid story, but a vital one to understand. After World War Two -- Mae Brussell says negotiations were underway before Germany's surrender -- the U.S. recruited Nazi spymaster Reinhard Gehlen to run its anti-Soviet operation in Eastern Europe. Bellant says that Nixon after his election as president actually brought the old Gehlen organization out of the shadows and into the sunshine of Republican National Committee. There were no frontpagers about that, were there?

In an environment where the duopoly is splintering, a great deal of energy is being expended to reanimate old shibboleths, chief among them is Russophobia. It seems wasteful and pitiful to me, and time will tell if it actually works. One thing seems certain. Hillary appears to be home free. A foolproof rule of thumb is that the candidate who leads two weeks following the last national party convention always wins. Unless we want to argue that 2016 is a black swan, Trump loses.

Anything more of substance about Clinton Foundation influence peddling at Hillary's State Department will be drowned out by the rising Russophobia noise blared by the deep state.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

In Case You Have Forgotten, that Stench You Smell is the Cadaver We Call Hillary

Bad news appears to be hurtling Hillary's way. How else to interpret this morning's frontpager by Eric Lichtblau and Eric Schmitt, "Hack of Democrats’ Accounts Was Wider Than Believed, Officials Say"?
WASHINGTON — A Russian cyberattack that targeted Democratic politicians was bigger than it first appeared and breached the private email accounts of more than 100 party officials and groups, officials with knowledge of the case said Wednesday.
The widening scope of the attack has prompted the F.B.I. to broaden its investigation, and agents have begun notifying a long list of Democratic officials that the Russians may have breached their personal accounts.
The main targets appear to have been the personal email accounts of Hillary Clinton’s campaign officials and party operatives, along with a number of party organizations.
Officials have acknowledged that the Russian hackers gained access to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which is the fund-raising arm for House Democrats, and to the Democratic National Committee, including a D.N.C. voter analytics program used by Mrs. Clinton’s presidential campaign.
But the hack now appears to have extended well beyond those groups, and organizations like the Democratic Governors’ Association may also have been affected, according to Democrats involved in the investigation.
Democrats say they are bracing for the possibility that another batch of damaging or embarrassing internal material could become public before the November presidential election.
Clearly the intention is to inoculate the Clinton campaign from onrushing bad news. The inoculation comes in the form of red baiting, the same inoculation utilized after the WikiLeaks salvo felled the odious Wasserman-Schultz from her DNC perch.

A strong tell that we are in the realm of the dark arts is the presence of Eric Schmitt in the byline. Schmitt handles all the spook info-war stuff for the Gray Lady. His portfolio straddles continents. Though his paycheck is cut by The New York Times, he essentially works for the United States Government.

But today's story is an unusually sloppy one. The point of the Lichtblau-Schmitt piece is to drown out any content in a fresh tranche of damaging email leaks by shouting, "The Russians are coming! The Russians are coming!" The thought among seasoned info-war veterans must be that this call still resonates in the U.S. homeland. The problem is that Lichtblau-Schmitt undercut their main premise midway through the story:
The F.B.I. says it has no direct evidence that Mrs. Clinton’s private email server was hacked by the Russians or anyone else. But in June, the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, said that intruders had tried, and that any successful intruders were probably far too skilled to leave evidence of their intrusion behind. Law enforcement officials said he had the Russians in mind.
Lichtblau-Schmitt lead by saying the FBI is expanding its investigation of email hacks, with the Russians being the likely culprit; then they cite FBI director Comey saying that skilled hackers, like the Russians, don't leave clues behind. So what is the reader to believe? Possibly Lichtblau-Schmitt are not being sloppy but actually intend to befuddle their audience.

There is this nugget at the end of story:
WikiLeaks, the group that put out the D.N.C. emails publicly last month, interjected itself into the hacking case again this week when it offered a $20,000 reward for information on the shooting death last month of a former D.N.C. staff member, Seth Rich, outside his Washington home. His killing fueled speculation on the internet that he was somehow tied to the hacked emails, but the police have not given any credence to that speculation. 
The WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, has made it clear that he would like to hurt Mrs. Clinton’s bid for the White House, opposing her candidacy on policy and personal grounds. He has hinted that he has more material about the presidential campaign that he could release.
It could be that Rich was WikiLeaks' source.

The email hack conspiracy story, "rich" as it is, distracts us from the elephant in the room -- Clinton Foundation influence peddling. (See "Spokesman Explains Why Clinton Charity Donor Sought State Dept. Meeting" by Eric Lipton and Steve Eder.) Lambert Strether synopsizes the Clinton Foundation-State Department pipeline in a Water Cooler from yesterday:
Lambert here, tl;dr: It’s all true. Donors to the Clinton Foundation got special treatment at State. Emails released by State, showing this, were not released by Clinton, even though they weren’t about yoga lessons and Chelsea’s wedding. Shocked, shocked, I know, but the Clinton Dynasty’s effrontery continues to amaze. Even though Judicial Watch isn’t on my side of the ideological prism, kudos to them for their patience and persistence in getting this material released. (The headlines, incidentally, show far too much deference.) Cue the “no quid pro quo” therefore no corruption crowd. (The irony of liberals accepting the doctrine of Citizens United to save their corrupt candidate is corrosive. Or not ironic at all. At this point, I’m not sure.)
“The new emails, released by the group Judicial Watch, offer fresh examples of how top Clinton Foundation officials [on behalf of big donors] sought [and gained] access to the State Department during Mrs. Clinton’s tenure.” (I’ve helpfully added some clarifying material in square brackets.) [Wall Street Journal, “Newly Released Emails Highlight Clinton Foundation’s Ties to State Department “]. Huma’s three hats are interesting, too.
“The State Department has turned over 44 previously-unreleased Hillary Clinton email exchanges that the Democratic presidential nominee failed to include [attempted to conceal] among the 30,000 private messages she turned over to the government last year. They show her interacting with [pedding influence] lobbyists, political and Clinton Foundation donors and business interests as secretary of state.” (Here too, I’ve helpfully added some clarifying material in square brackets.) [AP].
UPDATE “New Emails Appear to Show Clinton Foundation Donors Called In Favors to State Dept” [LawNewz]. “Newly released State Department records, including previously unreleased emails from Huma Abedin, appear to show Clinton Foundation donors calling in favors from then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.”
The reanimation of Hillary's political cadaver is requiring a colossal amount of energy from the grid, so much so that the grid might very well crash. We can only hope.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Afghanistan at the End of the Line

News of Afghanistan that reaches the pages of the Western press is usually bad. Terror bombings in Kabul. The northern province of Kunduz, whose capital city was overrun briefly by the Taliban last autumn, remains largely under Taliban control. The same can be said for Helmand and Uruzgan provinces in the south. Obama reversed himself on U.S. troop levels and rules of engagement exposing the lie of his 2014 end of combat operations ceremony.

Another big 2014 Obama administration lie is about to be exposed. The Kerry-created unity government of Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, cobbled together extra-legally to avoid a potential civil war due to questionable vote returns from the Afghan presidential election, is supposed to have passed certain mile markers by this October. Mujib Mashal explains this morning in "Hamid Karzai Is Still Running, but Where’s the Finish Line?"
The end of September is the deadline for the government to meet the commitments of a political deal brokered by Secretary of State John Kerry after the catastrophic 2014 election dispute. By then, Afghanistan is supposed to hold a parliamentary election, enact sweeping electoral reform, and amend the Constitution to create the position of prime minister for Mr. Ghani’s election rival and current governing partner, Abdullah Abdullah. But staying on schedule was already impossible many months ago, and Mr. Kerry has publicly insisted that Mr. Ghani’s government will remain through the end of its five-year term, regardless.
That is just the beginning. The country’s security situation is worsening, despite the American military’s increased involvement in the fighting. The Taliban have seized many districts, and they threaten to take many more.
Mr. Ghani, the constant technocrat, has been forced to focus on security, and his economic initiatives have stalled. And suddenly he has also been challenged by a street protest movement in which ethnic Hazaras are accusing his government of systematic discrimination.
The most recent of the demonstrations was struck by a suicide bombing, claimed by the Islamic State, that left at least 80 people dead. Now the demonstrators accuse the government of purposefully leaving them vulnerable to attack, and they have given Mr. Ghani an ultimatum to meet their demands — another September deadline, as it turns out.
On top of all that, a new protest movement, potentially more dangerous, is growing just north of Kabul, the capital, calling for the government to rebury with dignity a bandit northern king who has been dead for nearly a century, shot by a firing squad. Among the people calling for the reburial, and threatening protests, are northern militia commanders who have long been skeptical of Mr. Ghani, and they have also given him a September ultimatum.
Government officials accuse Mr. Karzai and his allies of having a hand in the recent protests. But he says he is after neither the collapse of the government nor a return to power. “I have absolutely no doubt about that,” he said.
He just wants the government’s legitimacy affirmed after the September deadline, he said, and the only way left is to call a traditional loya jirga — a grand assembly of tribal elders from across the country.

Mr. Karzai’s push for a loya jirga is the move most widely seen as a game plan for returning to power, or at least for negotiating more leverage. His strength is with the tribes and the power brokers he has maintained at his side, while Mr. Ghani has alienated many of them.

It helps to understand that Mr. Karzai represents an entire network of power — national as well as local — accumulated over 13 years and beyond. That network feels that it is slowly being uprooted under Mr. Ghani’s presidency, and that it could be vastly weakened if the current government survives the September deadline intact.
Kerry is on record saying that the U.S. plans on ignoring its own agreement, an agreement that was supposed to bestow legitimacy on the Afghan unity government. Ghani will rule absent parliamentary elections, election reform or a loya jirga. Clearly this is an occupation government, nothing more. How the United Nations and international donors will manage to maintain the fiction that Afghanistan is a democratic state is another matter. Mashal wrote back in April that
Western and Afghan officials say certain advisers to Mr. Ghani are envisioning a different outcome: using the deadline to force out Mr. Abdullah. They argue that while the position of chief executive expires, the president will still have a mandate, from an election that they say was cleansed by a United Nations audit.
Part of the price Abdullah Abdullah paid for his chief executive slot in the current government was to drop his challenge to the legitimacy of the 2014 election. Now, potentially, those scrubbed election results will be used to oust him.

And that is just the internal government feud between the Ghani and Abdullah factions. Then there is Karzai positioning himself as the leader of a post-U.S. Afghanistan:
Mr. Karzai reserves his sharpest criticism of the government for what he considers its biggest sin: cozying up, “immensely, sadly,” to the United States and relying on it for its survival. 
Mr. Karzai, who sent flowers to the American ambassador for the Fourth of July holiday and then signed a thank-you note to the ambassador for thanking him, said in an interview with The New York Times last week that “the Americans, whose primary slogan is democracy, are making a sham of democracy in Afghanistan.” 
He is not fundamentally against the American presence, he says: He just wants them to stop bombing his country and interfering in the political process, which he accused Mr. Kerry of doing in the spring when he insisted on a full-term Ghani government.
“This is a blatant interference to undermine the sovereignty of Afghanistan,” Mr. Karzai said in the interview. “Look at this country: What do we have other than our pride and sovereignty? Then someone comes — from a good place, America — stands here in our country to determine the duration of our government as he sees fit? That is an insult.”

Meanwhile, the streams of visitors continue, and Mr. Karzai regales them with parables that at times seem like bids for redemption, and at others like foresight.

During one lunch, he told a story of a group of tired travelers in a desert who see a fire in the distance and hear drums. Men are dancing the circle-dance called Attan. The travelers decide to spend the night there, and to make their hosts feel comfortable, they join in the dance.
But the dance stretches on and on. 
“One of the travelers is wise, he realizes it is the devil’s dance and it will go on all night,” Mr. Karzai told the guests. “When the morning comes, there would be no sign of a dance or the devils.”

He paused, then drove the point home: “We are stuck in the dance of the devil,” he said, to chuckles. “When the sun rises, the devils will be gone, but we will be left in this dry land.”
The U.S. and Afghanistan are linked. Afghanistan's destruction played a key role in the counterrevolution launched against social democracy in the United States. First, the big military buildup begun by Jimmy Carter and expanded by Reagan after the Soviet invasion; then, post-9/11, the U.S. invasion.

This fall both the U.S. and Afghanistan are coming to the end of the line of their counterrevolutions against social democracy.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Trump Needs a Miracle + Blows Against the Empire

This morning, the first post-convention Monday in the long march to the general election in November, is a good indication of why it will take a miracle for Donald Trump to win the White House. Stories with the most prominent placement are "Donald Trump’s Confrontation With Muslim Soldier’s Parents Emerges as Unexpected Flash Point" and "How Paul Manafort Wielded Power in Ukraine Before Advising Donald Trump." The former plays up Trump's bigotry and divisiveness; the latter, the new McCarythism. The media will tattoo Trump and the Trump campaign every day for the next three months. Trump will be unable to whittle down his disapproval rating and narrow the gender gap. Because the media monopoly has gone all in for Hillary, Trump is effectively in a box; absent the miraculous, there he will stay.

Then there is the issue of the daunting electoral map. Alexander Burns and Maggie Haberman in "Electoral Map Gives Donald Trump Few Places to Go" outline the harrowing journey ahead for The Donald. Basically he has to run the table on the big swing states -- Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida -- and hold North Carolina. Problem is, Trump is woefully underfunded at this point, not to mention that he has alienated a large part of the GOP machine. Even assuming a richly-funded, well-organized campaign, Trump's task ahead is Herculean. Given that he is having trouble raising money -- and it doesn't look like he is going to bankroll himself -- and his campaign infrastructure is skeletal, once again, a miracle is called for.

Nate Cohn limned the contours of this miracle in "Donald Trump’s Path: What Map Should Democrats Fear the Most?" Trump runs the big swings as well as the little swings -- Nevada, Iowa, New Hampshire -- and ends up tied 269-269 with Hillary. The election gets dumped into the House of Representatives where Paul Ryan anoints Trump il Duce. Far-fetched? Absolutely.

True, Trump has proven he is a real wild card and not one to be counted out, but I think as we get deeper into August his limitations are going to catch up with his campaign and Hillary will get back to her four-to-five-point lead.

While we are hypnotized stateside with the Trump circus, the U.S. Empire is about to absorb some big blows:

1) Some sort of rapprochement is underway between Russia and Turkey. Putin and Erdogan are to meet next week in St. Petersburg. Turkey appears convinced that the U.S. had a hand in the recent coup attempt.

2) The jihadis are surrounded in Aleppo. Pro-jihadi think tankers are already licking their wounds and looking for some sort of silver lining. That silver lining appears to be "Just wait until Hillary gets here."

3) Italy is on the verge of a full-blown banking crisis. Renzi is on the ropes. Another anti-EU party, M5S, is looking strong.

4) Britain will likely continue to trod a rocky road as it becomes apparent that Theresa May plans on screwing the white working class that voted for Brexit.

Get ready. Crisis time approaches.