Friday, October 28, 2016

Texas in Play?

From an AFL-CIO honcho in the Lone Star State who replied (see below) to a question as to whether Texas was truly in play, as has been reported, emailed him (and shared with me) by a guy who works in my building:
In play? Yes and no.
Polls are close (3 points and up) and maybe the Latino vote is underestimated. Labor is certainly working it.
But we are not a "battleground," nor are we getting major resources.
If we win, it will be amid the worst GOP implosion since 1964.
So it's possible, but no one is predicting a win.
How big will Hillary win? This appears to be where we are at with about a week-and-a-half to go. Trump has been written off. He is done. Kaput. The debate now appears to be whether his supporters will pick up their muskets and pitchforks after November 8, or, the $64,000 question, "How long will Clinton's coattails be?"

I think both -- Trump's fascist revolution and a Democratic landslide -- are hype.

My sense, as I have said before, is that Hillary will have coattails that will barely cover her ass. The latest from Nate Silver is that the presidential polls are narrowing again:
We’ve reached the point in the campaign where there are so many polls coming in — state polls, national polls, tracking polls, one-off polls — that it’s really nice to have a model to sort out all the data. A couple of days ago, the model was beginning to detect tenuous signs that the presidential race was tightening. Now, that seems a bit clearer. Clinton’s lead over Donald Trump is now 5.7 percentage points in the polls-only model, down from 7.1 points on Oct. 17. And Trump’s chances of winning the election have recovered to 18 percent from a low of 12 percent. Trump’s chances in the polls-plus forecast are 21 percent, improved from a low of 15 percent.
Almost all the tightening is happening because Trump’s numbers have improved. Clinton’s share of the vote — about 46 percent in national polls— is still as high as it’s been all campaign. But Trump seems to have brought home some Republicans who were thinking about sitting out the election or voting for a third-party candidate. Libertarian Gary Johnson has fallen to 5 percent in our popular-vote forecast — his lowest point to date. (If Johnson finishes with less than 5 percent, the Libertarian Party would be deprived of federal matching funds for the 2020 election.) The undecided vote is also declining, although it remains high compared with recent elections.
Then again, I read a story today that said Darrell Issa (longtime GOP incumbent in California’s 49th CD) is dangerously close to being ousted. So I don’t know.

My prediction? Hillary is no LBJ. The electoral college might be a blowout. But the popular vote margin will not be more than five-six points (and it very well could be in the Obama-Romney range, which was four points). For Dems: House, no; Senate, it’s so tight you would have to be a precog to know the outcome. I think the third party totals will end up surprising us. Stein is at 2% in the national polls; Johnson, a little over 5%. Based on anecdotal evidence (people -- women of color -- I know who have never voted third party, voted for Jill Stein) I think Stein might do as well as Nader did in 2000, 2.74%. In other words, Stein could very well outperform her polls. Johnson appears to be bleeding. Hopefully, he'll hold on so that the anti-imperialist Libertarians can grab those federal matching funds.

Monday, October 24, 2016

NFL Ratings Drop & the End of the Unipolar World

UPDATE: Today (October 26) Ken Belson, Richard Sandomir and Rory Smith of The New York Times ponder the NFL ratings drop, tossing in the even worse drop in viewership of English Premier League soccer matches, in "TV Viewership Falls in N.F.L. and Premier League: A Blip, or Something Worse?"
The two most successful sports leagues in the world, bringing in billions of dollars in revenue, the biggest corporate sponsors and mammoth audiences every game day, are now sharing an altogether different experience: The National Football League and the English Premier League are seeing startling, double-digital declines in television viewership this season.
Viewership through the first seven weeks of the N.F.L. season is down by 12 percent in the United States, while the audiences for E.P.L. soccer matches this season, which began in August, are down nearly 20 percent in Britain.
All the trends that drove viewers away from other programs on broadcast television in recent years, including cord-cutting and DVRs, never punished the N.F.L. and the Premier League in the same way. Fans — lots and lots of them — did not seem willing to look away. 
They are now, in numbers that are alarming for the leagues, which have grown used to fans tuning in to their games in good times and bad, and for the networks, some of which have spent 10-figure sums for the rights to broadcast them. Viewership for N.F.L. games on CBS on Thursday nights, on NBC on Sunday nights and on ESPN on Monday nights is down by as much as 21 percent.
Everything -- from the presidential election season, to too many games being broadcast, to absence of Tom Brady to begin the season, to distracted viewers during the games -- is considered.

Sure, the presidential election year makes a difference. And we can't ignore the digitalization of our lives -- Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, smartphones, Tinder, Google, on and on. But I think the main impetus to go cold turkey from the national opiate is the loss of competitiveness in the first month, month and a half, of the season. This synced with the shift in consciousness already underway -- the loss in faith in the mainstream; the digitalization of our attention span -- to deliver up the double-digit ratings drop.

Will the NFL rebound? It could. But, as I argue below, since U.S. global hegemony and the potency of the NFL opiate are linked, it probably won't.


The seventh Sunday of the National Football League's 2016 season concluded with an overtime defensive struggle between the Seahawks and Cardinals. The game ended in a rare tie, 6-6.

This kind of nailbiter is more rare now than in recent years past. Most of the games I have seen this season have been deplorable. Before last night, I can think of only a few good games all year (though with Week 6's Thursday Night match-up between the Broncos and the Chargers, it appears a shift back to competitiveness is underway).

This is unusual, and worthy of remark. I came across this opening line from a story on the NFL's latest domestic violence snafu, "N.F.L. Shows It Doesn’t Really Care About Domestic Violence," written by the excellent reporter Juliet Macur: "Television ratings for the N.F.L. are down 11 percent this season, and league officials have been grasping for possible explanations."

If anything, excellent competition has been the norm in the National Football League for more than a decade. Such was not always the case. In the 1970s and 1980s blow-outs were common. The obvious explanation for the significant ratings drop this year (one that doesn't include Kaepernick protesting white supremacy by taking a knee during the national anthem) is that the games have been lousy.

But, as I said, with Week 6, things seem to have snapped back to the competitiveness we have grown accustomed to, with exciting, close games like the Rams and the Lions, the Falcons and the Seahawks, and the Colts and the Texans.

The NFL is the premiere entertainment product in the United States. Hollywood is not what it used to be. Old media is giving way to the ubiquitous internet, and there is a scramble among corporate giants to gobble up as much content as possible.

The NFL remains the one true opiate of the masses. For that opiate to lose its potency at a time of political  tumult (Trump, Black Lives Matter, New Cold War) is auspicious.

What this portends -- and here I am being optimistic -- is some form of realignment. The U.S. unipolar world is over. (See Dilip Hiro's magisterial "American Power at the Crossroads: A Snapshot of a Multipolar World in Action.") The power elite lining up behind Hillary think that through confrontation the U.S. can maintain its monolithic status. This is clearly delusional. Most voters in the Western core, while possibly not able to explain this, nonetheless feel it in their bones. For the United States, based on the voluble new McCarthyism of Hillary and  the Democratic Party, it appears to be either catastrophic direct conflict with Russia or an embarrassing about-face.

A third way would simply be the maintenance of the status quo where the U.S. unipolar world exists as a sort of kabuki, a fiction whereby American destroyers continue to travel in waters claimed by the Dragon in the South China Sea and the CIA continues to collude with Al Qaeda in the destruction of states, blowback be damned.

But the status quo cannot be maintained. That is what we are living through right now.  That is our present tense.

Hillary chose to reboot McCarthyism to help her rancid old carcass across the finish line; it was either that or address directly the content of the WikiLeaks Podesta emails.

She is in a box now. She is going to have to retreat or escalate. And she is going to have to act with very little popular support.

Dilip Hiro thinks that U.S. global leadership will be unchallenged for decades to come. But this assumes that Europe doesn't continue to disintegrate, which should proceed rapidly in the next four years, particularly given the situation unfolding in Mosul. It also assumes stability in the American electorate. Hillary is about to ascend to the throne with the duopoly crumbling beneath her. No one can foresee how she will able to govern.

The U.S. needs it televisual opiate now more than ever, and early indications are it is not going to be there. Let the brave new world be born!

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Hillary Sews Up the Election + Podesta Email Hack an Answer to Panama Papers?

Last night's presidential debate was the worst of the three: a petty, redundant, ugly exchange where the Hillary we had grown accustomed to in the primary -- imperious, arrogant, a specialist in subterfuge -- reappeared, while Trump, bereft of the adrenaline provided by his "grab them by the pussy" bombshell, sleepwalked through the show. All in all a dud.

Fox's Chris Wallace dashed Trump's hopes for a comeback on November 8 by early on, I think it was the second question, asking about the candidates' position on abortion and their commitment to Roe v. Wade. Trump said that for all intents and purposes Roe v. Wade would be overturned if he were to become president. He danced around it a little, didn't want to come out and articulate a simple declarative sentence because he knows the issue locks in place the enormous gender gap Hillary enjoys in the polls, but the damage was done. The election was essentially decided right then and there,

The highlight for The New York Times is that "Trump Won’t Say if He Will Accept Election Results," which I suppose is the right headline given how bad the debate was and the status of the paper as a Clinton campaign organ. But the idea that Trump will lead some sort of insurrection after election day is ludicrous; like so much that Trump does, it is all petulance and bluster.

For me, the big takeaway from last night was Hillary's lunatic rant on Russia, as follows:
WALLACE: Secretary Clinton, I want to clear up your position on this issue, because in a speech you gave to a Brazilian bank, for which you were paid $225,000, we’ve learned from the WikiLeaks, that you said this, and I want to quote. “My dream is a hemispheric common market with open trade and open borders.” So that’s the question...
TRUMP: Thank you.
WALLACE: That’s the question. Please quiet, everybody. Is that your dream, open borders? 
CLINTON: Well, if you went on to read the rest of the sentence, I was talking about energy. You know, we trade more energy with our neighbors than we trade with the rest of the world combined. And I do want us to have an electric grid, an energy system that crosses borders. I think that would be a great benefit to us.
But you are very clearly quoting from WikiLeaks. And what’s really important about WikiLeaks is that the Russian government has engaged in espionage against Americans. They have hacked American websites, American accounts of private people, of institutions. Then they have given that information to WikiLeaks for the purpose of putting it on the Internet.
This has come from the highest levels of the Russian government, clearly, from Putin himself, in an effort, as 17 of our intelligence agencies have confirmed, to influence our election.
CLINTON: So I actually think the most important question of this evening, Chris, is, finally, will Donald Trump admit and condemn that the Russians are doing this and make it clear that he will not have the help of Putin in in this election, that he rejects Russian espionage against Americans, which he actually encouraged in the past? Those are the questions we need answered. We’ve never had anything like this happen in any of our elections before.
TRUMP: That was a great pivot off the fact that she wants open borders, OK? How did we get on to Putin?
WALLACE: Hold on — hold on, wait. Hold on, folks. Because we — this is going to end up getting out of control. Let’s try to keep it quiet so — for the candidates and for the American people.
How is Hillary's sidestep of the WikiLeaks material by invoking the Putin bogeyman any different from Tailgunner Joe McCarthy's "I have here in my hand a list . . ." of known communists?

When Trump kept repeating that Putin does not respect Hillary, that Putin is her better, I thought Hillary would go lupine. Her cheeks reddened, her eyes moistened, her mouth opened -- did her snout start to protrude?

This of course is no laughing matter. Hillary once again repeated her Syria no-fly/safe zone mantra. When Wallace reminded Clinton of Joint Chiefs Chairman Dunford's assessment that a no-fly zone in Aleppo Province means war with Russia, she absurdly sidestepped and said that, well, of course there would be negotiations first.

It came to me in an incandescent moment last night that if it is true that a Russian state agency is behind the hacks of Democrats that have ended up with WikiLeaks it is a proportional response to The Panama Papers, which like the White Helmets, has CIA written all over it.

Say what you will about Russia, good or bad, the pattern we have seen over the last several years is that the nation is mostly reactive -- Syria and Ukraine being prime examples. It is not instigating all this mayhem. That would be the United States and its various allies in the Middle East.

Monday, October 17, 2016

The U.S. Committed to the Kingdom. But What Can It Do If There is a Game of Thrones?

In the "newspaper of record" this past Friday and yesterday there were big stories on the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Part of the "Secrets of the Kingdom" irregular series in The New York Times.

"Saudi Arabia, Where Even Milk Depends on Oil, Struggles to Remake Its Economy," by Nicholas Kulish (Friday), and the even longer "Rise of Saudi Prince Shatters Decades of Royal Tradition," by Mark Mazzetti and Ben Hubbard (Sunday), paint a picture of woe for the absolute monarchy of 30 million subjects.

Kulish captures this woe in a few paragraphs (and without even mentioning the war in Yemen):
Saudi Arabia’s about-face last month at a meeting of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries in Algeria, agreeing to cut production to raise the price of crude, showed the urgency policy makers here are feeling. Prince Mohammed announced plans this year to sell off a small piece of the country’s economic crown jewel, Saudi Aramco, to free up money for investment.
The budget deficit was nearly $100 billion last year. The country’s foreign reserves have dropped by a quarter since oil prices started falling in 2014. The government has taken loans from foreign banks and will try to borrow more from the global bond market.
Hedge funds are wagering that the Saudi central bank will be forced to revalue its currency, the riyal. Zach Schreiber, the head of PointState Capital, which made $1 billion betting that oil would fall, told investors in May that the Saudi riyal was “massively overvalued” and that the country had only “two to three years of runway before it hits a wall.”
The government has abruptly cut construction projects, forcing contractors to lay off workers. This year, foreign laborers set fire to buses in protests demanding months of back pay. The sudden jump in water bills this spring led to such an outcry on social media that the minister for water and electricity was fired after telling customers to dig their own wells if they were unhappy with prices.
“If you’re a Saudi, you’ve grown up with that expectation of the financial largess that’s dished out,” said Adel Hamaizia, the vice chairman of the Oxford Gulf and Arabian Peninsula Studies Forum. “Things are likely to get more difficult for the government in terms of managing frustration from the everyday people.”
Adding to the pressure, the kingdom’s population has nearly doubled since 1990. With half of all Saudis younger than 25, the private sector does not offer enough good opportunities for the estimated 300,000 young people entering the work force each year, especially women. Fewer of the public sinecures that have sustained earlier generations are available, with plans for deeper cuts.
The Mazzetti and Hubbard story describes the coming battle for ascension to the throne between boy Prince bin Salman and Crown Prince bin Nayef. Prince Salman's father, King Salman, is fast on his way to dementia and has already ceded much of the management of the Kingdom to his favorite son. Vision 2030, the neoliberal reboot of the House of Saud, is Prince bin Salman's baby.

All of this is an enormous problem for the United States. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a U.S. creation. The USG will do everything in its power to insure its survival (such as a presidential veto of a universally popular bill to allow families of 9/11 victims to pursue civil claims against al-Saud, as well as knocking out Yemeni radar sites).

The Kingdom is singularly unpopular among U.S. voters. It is going to be a tough pull for any U.S. Government to save the Kingdom's bacon. And what does the U.S. do if there is a civil war among Saudi royals?

Friday, October 14, 2016

Out of the Closet in Yemen

The colossal stupidity of the United States Government was on display with its recent missile strikes on Yemeni radar sites. The USG is now publicly committed to protecting all Red Sea shipping in the Bab el Mandeb bottleneck. This from "Yemen Sees U.S. Strikes as Evidence of Hidden Hand Behind Saudi Air War" by Mark Mazzetti, Ben Hubbard and Matthew Rosenberg:
The United States has also kept warships in the region to guard a sea lane through which four million barrels of oil pass each day. There, in the narrow strait at the mouth of the Red Sea, the dizzying mix of warships, cargo vessels and insurgent forces this week yielded precisely what the Obama administration had spent 18 months trying to avoid. 
The American strikes, launched at rebel-held territory, came after two unsuccessful missile attacks on the Mason in four days, the Pentagon said Thursday, and were intended solely to protect American forces and other shipping in Bab el Mandeb, the strait separating Yemen from Eritrea and Djibouti.
More attacks would invite further retaliation, Peter Cook, the Pentagon spokesman, said Thursday. American and allied warships will continue to patrol the strait, he said, but “we don’t seek a wider role in the conflict.” 
That may be the case, but the United States now finds itself facing a dangerous situation in a narrow stretch of water where even small incidents run the risk of inciting a broader conflict. 
After the American strikes, Iran said it was sending two warships to the strait, presumably to support the Houthis, an indigenous Shiite group with loose connections to Iran. Saudi Arabia has portrayed the Houthis as an Iranian proxy force and has said that it needed to intervene in Yemen to protect Saudi national security by preventing the rise of a belligerent militia on its southern border.
This commitment to Bab el Mandeb  cannot be easily undone. The U.S. is now "out of the closet" in Yemen; at the same time, it is talking about a shooting war with Russia over Aleppo.

What is fascinating about this full embrace of total and perpetual war by the rulers of the "indispensable nation" is that it comes absent any evidence of support from the American masses. The organs of the mainstream media -- The New York Times, CNN -- have been cranking out noise directly from Central Intelligence, day in and day out, for months -- no, years. To no avail. People do not want to go to war with Syria, and definitely not Russia, no matter how many times little Omran Daqneesh's bloody face is flashed.

Combine this with the onrushing election of a president who is likely the most unpopular -- the only other contenders that spring to mind are Nixon 1968 and John Quincy Adams 1824 -- and you have a recipe for a lot of instability. Because you know Hillary is a warhawk.

The system is so rancid and distended I don't see how it can be maintained. A correction is called for pronto. And that is the point of politics, to provide such a correction. Is the GOP civil war correction enough? I don't think so.

Electorally, the best that could be hoped for would be record low turnout and 5% for each third-party presidential candidate, giving Greens and Libertarians federal matching funds. Militarily, there needs to be a singular, exemplary defeat along the lines of the fall of Saigon. Maybe in Kabul, or possibly a messy civil war between U.S. proxies in Mosul following the rout of the Islamic State?

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Democrat Dark GOP Fantasy

From the big frontpager in The New York Times this morning, Alexander Burns and Jonathan Martin's "Split Over Donald Trump Threatens to Tilt Republican States":
The nightmare possibility for the party is that swing voters punish the party because of Mr. Trump, the anti-Trump Republicans stay at home and Mr. Trump’s base casts a ballot for him and then leaves the polls. Under those conditions, Senate races in places like Pennsylvania and North Carolina could fall to Democrats, while Senate and House races in places like Missouri, Arizona and Kansas could move to the center of the battlefield.
Already, Republicans view Mr. Trump’s sharp downturn in the presidential race as having jeopardized their majorities in Congress. A poll published on Tuesday by NBC News and The Wall Street Journal found Mr. Trump trailing Mrs. Clinton by nine percentage points nationally and drawing just 37 percent of the vote. No major-party nominee since World War II has received a smaller share of the vote. But in an illustration of the bind Republicans are in, the poll found that three-fourths of Republicans believed their candidates should stay loyal to Mr. Trump.
George H.W. Bush only received 37% in 1992. And it is instructive to note that Democrats actually lost seats in the House that election, while breaking even in the Senate. Bill was a lot more popular in 1992 than Hillary is today. So I think these "perfect storm" prognostications by The New York Times are more fanciful agitprop than political math.

Hillary will win because of the gender gap. But she is not popular, and her coattails will barely cover her ass.

Monday, October 10, 2016

The Black Swan is a Phoenix

I watched the second presidential debate last night, and I thought Trump won it convincingly. He was most effective toppling Hillary from her high horse as she droned on about the impropriety of his "locker room banter." Trump did this by pointing to women in the gallery, three of whom had been victims of Bill Clinton's sexual violence. The fourth woman, Kathy Shelton, a child rape survivor whose attacker Hillary defended in court, said Hillary had laughed in her face:
Shelton joined Twitter on Saturday, and immediately started firing off messages targeting the Clintons. 
'I may be Hillary Clinton’s 1st female victim. She ruined my life; defended my rapist & blamed me. I was 12 yrs old. Then she laughed at me,' one message read.
Trump repeated this at the outset of the debate. From then on Hillary was on her heels.

Trump won big on foreign policy -- Aleppo, Libya, Mosul -- and he scored impressively on Hillary's email abuses. Trump brought up WikiLeaks and scored big when Hillary attempted to blame the Russians.

Nate Silver didn't see a big Trump win ("The Second Debate Probably Didn’t Help Trump, And He Needed Help"). He saw a modest victory for Hillary that might end up turning into a Trump win after the electorate has a chance to digest the debate over the next few days. Silver's larger point is an important one I think: Even if we erase the Billy Bush Access Hollywood tape and last night's debate, Trump is in rough shape:
CNN poll of debate watchers found that even though most voters thought Trump exceeded expectations, 57 percent of them nevertheless declared Clinton the winner, compared with 34 percent for Trump. A YouGov poll of debate watchers showed a much closer outcome, but with Clinton also winning, 47 percent to 42 percent.
These instant-reaction polls actually do have a correlation with post-debate horse-race polls: The candidate who wins the former usually gains in the latter. Perhaps Clinton’s win was modest enough that this will be an exception, especially given that the sentiments of pundits and television commentators (which sometimes matter as much as the debate itself) were all over the map.
So suppose that we call the debate a draw. Suppose, furthermore that the tape the Post published didn’t damage Trump. Instead, let’s say the polls look about the same a week from now as they do today, with Clinton holding a 5 or 6 percentage point lead. Maybe Clinton’s numbers were a little inflated after the first debate and Trump has even gained a point or two, somehow.
That’s still a fairly awful position for Trump with time running out, undecided voters getting off the sidelines, early voting already taking place in many states and little or no ground game to help provide a strong finishing kick. There’s the third debate, but without an extremely strong performance in that one, Trump is probably left hoping for an “October surprise” or a big polling error (not impossible, but it would have to be larger than the 4-point margin by which Brexit polls missed).
Or, obviously, things could get worse for Trump. And some “October surprises” — such as further leaks of tax returns or embarrassing comments caught on tape — could work against him. (They also wouldn’t be that surprising.) His attempt to make an issue of Bill Clinton’s past, which his campaign seems determined to pursue, could also backfire. 
I thought Hillary convincingly won the first debate. Trump convincingly won the second debate. Will he get the kind of bounce that Hillary got after debate #1? At the very least he saved his candidacy.

Hillary should refuse to participate in the last debate. She does better when Trump is left to his own devices and the mainstream media is gang-tackling him.

One interesting possibility that Silver does mention is the black swan: The polling error could be even bigger than the Brexit forecast.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

This October Surprise Comes in Threes

Friday saw three surprises. The first was WikiLeaks' reveal of "The Podesta Emails," named after Hillary's campaign chair and Washington power broker, John Podesta. Included in these emails are snippets of Hillary's expensive speeches to banking giants. These are the speeches that Hillary refuses to make public, the ones Bernie inveighed against in the primary. Hillary has kept them under wraps for good reason. They confirm the worst suspicions about the Clintons serving the top tenth of the 1%. Hillary favors the Trans Pacific-Partnership trade deal; she thinks the 2008 banking crisis was overly politicized; and she thinks there are too many barriers to the rich serving in government.

To throw a wet blanket on the Assange October Surprise, spook-in-chief James Clapper issued a statement identifying the Russian government as the agent behind recent hacks of Democrat operatives. Call it a counter-surprise.

Then of course there is the "mother of all surprises," Trump's "grab them by the pussy" comment, gathering dust since 2005 but conveniently brushed up and presented as breaking news the same day as evidence surfaced of Hillary's performing fellatio for Lloyd Blankfein.

What a bunch of surprises. I would be surprised if we weren't in store for more this month.

The Black Swan has been Black Swanned

There is no recovering from this gaffe for The Donald. Not even Jesus Christ or Mahatma Gandhi would be forgiven for:
In the three-minute recording, which was obtained by The Washington Post, Mr. Trump recounts to the television personality Billy Bush of “Access Hollywood” how he once pursued a married woman and “moved on her like a bitch, but I couldn’t get there,” expressing regret that they did not have sex. But he brags of a special status with women: Because he was “a star,” he says, he could “grab them by the pussy” whenever he wanted.
The American electorate, H.L. Mencken's "Boobeoisie," knows one thing for sure, and that is smut. This broke yesterday afternoon, the Bermuda Triangle -- Friday after lunch -- of news coverage. It will seep into the collective consciousness over the weekend.

The party is over. Trump's gender gap is now officially unbridgeable. Welcome to Clintontime, part two.

It is hard to imagine how Trump will appear on the debate stage with Hillary tomorrow. His only hope is to make the problem even bigger and go low and blame Slick Willie for saying even worse on the golf course. What could that be? A salacious blow-by-blow of how Bill sodomized a Clinton Foundation staffer?

If Trump goes this route he will be disavowed by the GOP. Conversations are underway right now to force Trump to stand down in favor of Pence. That of course is the smart move for the Republicans down-ballot.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Both VP Candidates Call for War with Russia in Syria

What was most alarming about the vice presidential debate last night was not only the intense Russophobia on display but the unanimity among the candidates, Tim Kaine (D) and Mike Pence (R), for invading Syria to establish "safe havens." The moderator, Elaine Quijano, tried to suss out how the safe havens would work -- for instance, what happens to all those jihadis armed to the teeth with a penchant for chopping off the heads of apostates? -- but she was completely ignored.

The vice presidential debate seemed more traditional, more familiar than the first clash between Trump and Hillary. So I think it is pretty safe to say that the opinions expressed last night represent the mainstream thought of the ruling political class. I can't recall a Russian leader being derided and vilified as much as Vladimir Putin (maybe Joseph Stalin). Think back to Reagan's "evil empire" speech. Did Reagan call Andropov a small man, a thug, a dictator? Of course not. The treatment Putin is getting is consistent with Saddam Hussein or Slobodan Milosevic. The huge difference being that the Russian Federation is neither Iraq nor Serbia.

There is an unhinged quality in U.S. mainstream political life right now. We are being forced into a war footing with Russia. Is this aburdity Kerry's Plan B?

Below is that portion of last night's debate that deals with confronting Russia in Syria to establish humanitarian safe havens. The Washington Post provides a complete transcript.
KAINE: Syria.
QUIJANO: I want to turn now to Syria. Two hundred fifty thousand people, 100,000 of them children, are under siege in Aleppo, Syria. Bunker buster bombs, cluster munitions, and incendiary weapons are being dropped on them by Russian and Syrian militaries. Does the U.S. have a responsibility to protect civilians and prevent mass casualties on this scale, Governor Pence?
PENCE: The United States of America needs to begin to exercise strong leadership to protect the vulnerable citizens and over 100,000 children in Aleppo. Hillary Clinton's top priority when she became secretary of state was the Russian reset, the Russians reset. After the Russian reset, the Russians invaded Ukraine and took over Crimea.
And the small and bullying leader of Russia is now dictating terms to the United States to the point where all the United States of America -- the greatest nation on Earth -- just withdraws from talks about a cease-fire while Vladimir Putin puts a missile defense system in Syria while he marshals the forces and begins -- look, we have got to begin to lean into this with strong, broad-shouldered American leadership.
It begins by rebuilding our military. And the Russians and the Chinese have been making enormous investments in the military. We have the smallest Navy since 1916. We have the lowest number of troops since the end of the Second World War. We've got to work with Congress, and Donald Trump will, to rebuild our military and project American strength in the world.
But about Aleppo and about Syria, I truly do believe that what America ought to do right now is immediately establish safe zones, so that families and vulnerable families with children can move out of those areas, work with our Arab partners, real time, right now, to make that happen.
And secondly, I just have to tell you that the provocations by Russia need to be met with American strength. And if Russia chooses to be involved and continue, I should say, to be involved in this barbaric attack on civilians in Aleppo, the United States of America should be prepared to use military force to strike military targets of the Assad regime to prevent them from this humanitarian crisis that is taking place in Aleppo.
There's a broad range of other things that we ought to do, as well. We ought to deploy a missile defense shield to the Czech Republic and Poland which Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama pulled back on out of not wanting to offend the Russians back in 2009.
QUIJANO: Governor, your two minutes are up.
PENCE: We've just got to have American strength on the world stage. When Donald Trump becomes president of the United States, the Russians and other countries in the world will know they're dealing with a strong American president.
 QUIJANO: Senator Kaine?
KAINE: Hillary and I also agree that the establishment of humanitarian zones in northern Syria with the provision of international human aid, consistent with the U.N. Security Council resolution that was passed in February 2014, would be a very, very good idea.
And Hillary also has the ability to stand up to Russia in a way that this ticket does not. Donald Trump, again and again, has praised Vladimir Putin. And it's clear that he has business dealings with Russian oligarchs who are very connected to Putin.
The Trump campaign management team had to be fired a month or so ago because of those shadowy connections with pro-Putin forces. Governor Pence made the odd claim, he said inarguably Vladimir Putin is a better leader than President Obama. Vladimir Putin has run his economy into the ground. He persecutes LGBT folks and journalists. If you don't know the difference between dictatorship and leadership, then you got to go back to a fifth-grade civics class.
I'll tell you what offends me...
PENCE: Well, that offended me.
KAINE: Governor Pence just said -- Governor Pence just said that Donald Trump will rebuild the military. No, he won't. Donald Trump is avoiding paying taxes. The New York Times story -- and we need to get this -- but the New York Times suggested that he probably didn't pay taxes for about 18 years starting in 1995. Those years included the years of 9/11.
So get this. On 9/11, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump's hometown was attacked by the worst terrorist attack in the history of the United States. Young men and women -- young men and women signed up to serve in the military to fight terrorism. Hillary Clinton went to Washington to get funds to rebuild her city and protect first responders, but Donald Trump was fighting a very different fight. It was a fight to avoid paying taxes so that he wouldn't support the fight against terror.
QUIJANO: The question was about Aleppo, Senator.
KAINE: He wouldn't support troops. He wouldn't -- he wouldn't support -- this is important, Elaine. When a guy running for president will not support the troops, not support veterans, not support teachers, that's really important.
KAINE: And I said about Aleppo, we do agree the notion is we have to create a humanitarian zone in northern Syria. It's very important.
QUIJANO: Governor Pence, you had mentioned no-fly zone. Where would you propose setting up a safe zone specifically? How would you keep it safe?
PENCE: Well, first and foremost, Donald Trump supports our troops. Donald Trump supports our veterans.
KAINE: He won't pay taxes.
PENCE: Donald Trump has paid all the taxes that he's -- do you not take deductions? How does that work?
QUIJANO: Gentlemen, this is about Syria. I'd like to...
PENCE: Honestly, Senator. Honestly, Senator.
KAINE: It is about our troops. It is about our troops.
PENCE: I understand why you want to change -- I understand why you want to change the subject.
KAINE: How can you support the troops if you won't pay taxes?
PENCE: I understand why you want to change the subject. And let me be very clear on this Russian thing. The larger question here...
KAINE: Do you think Donald Trump is smart to not pay taxes?
QUIJANO: Gentlemen, we're going to have time to get to Russia here.
PENCE: What we're dealing with is the -- you know, there's an old proverb that says the Russian bear never dies, it just hibernates. And the truth of the matter is, the weak and feckless foreign policy of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama has awakened an aggression in Russia that first appeared a few years ago with their move in Georgia, now their move into Crimea, now their move into the wider Middle East.
And all the while, all we do is fold our arms and say we're not having talks anymore. To answer your question, we just need American strength. We need to -- we need to marshal the resources of our allies in the region, and in the immediate, we need to act and act now to get people out of harm's way.
QUIJANO: And exactly how would those safe zones work? How would they remain safe?
PENCE: The -- the safe zones would have to be -- as the senator said, there's already a framework for this that's been recognized by the international community. The United States of America needs to be prepared to work with our allies in the region to create a route for safe passage and then to protect people in those areas, including with a no-fly zone.
But, look, this is very tough stuff. I served on the Foreign Affairs Committee for a decade. I traveled in and out of that region for 10 years. I saw what the American soldier won in Operation Iraqi Freedom. And to see the weak and feckless leadership that Hillary Clinton was the architect of and the foreign policy of the Obama administration...

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Change is Coming from Europe

If a blow is going to be dealt to American hegemony, we should look to Europe first. The U.S. is on a perpetual war footing. The Obama administration has picked fights with Russia, China; it is attempting to reassert control in South America, at the same time it is presiding over extensive military campaigns in the Greater Middle East (not to mention all its secret ops and special forces in Africa). The U.S. needs its enabling European sidekick in order to cope with its war mania.

But this war mania is what is splintering the electoral base of Europe's ruling parties. War mania creates refugees who attempt to immigrate to Europe. Merkel is losing consistently in Germany, and Le Pen is on her way this spring in France. Spring is also the time that Conservative Party leader Theresa May announced that Britain will trigger Article 50 and begin negotiating with the EU on an exit, which by statute must be concluded in two years. Spain might be headed for its third election in a year. Italy's Renzi is on the ropes.

At the very least, next year, when Europe is coming apart, it is going to be very hard for the U.S. to bluster and bully as it has for so long. Change is on the way, and it is coming from Europe.

Monday, October 3, 2016

The U.S. and AQI Go Way Back

An eye-opening report by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (not to be confused with the spooky International Consortium of Investigative Journalists of Panama Papers fame) appeared yesterday. "Fake News and False Flags: How the Pentagon paid a British PR firm $500 million for top secret Iraq Propaganda," by Crofton Black and Abigail Fielding-Smith, describes how Bell Pottinger, the firm responsible for crafting Margaret Thatcher's persona, worked with General David Petraeus to produce Al Qaeda video shorts.
Bell Pottinger’s output was signed off by the commander of coalition forces in Iraq, according to Wells. “We’d get the two colonels in to look at the things we’d done that day, they’d be fine with it, it would then go to General Petraeus," he said.
Some of the projects went even higher up the chain of command. “If [Petraeus] couldn’t sign off on it, it would go on up the line to the White House, and it was signed off up there, and the answer would come back down the line’."
So the fact that the United States is working with Al Qaeda affiliate in Syria Jabhat al-Nusra (re-branded in July as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham,"Front for the Conquest of the Levant") should come as no surprise. The U.S. has been promoting Al Qaeda for quite some time.