Wednesday, December 28, 2016

A Vertiginous New Year

CORRECTION: Repeatedly I have referred to Dutch and French elections both taking place in the same month in the coming year, March. Not so. My apologies. General elections for the House of Representatives in the Netherlands take place on March 15, while the first round of France's presidential election is April 23, with a run-off between the top two scheduled for May 7. So far it's Marine Le Pen of the National Front versus Francois Fillon of the Republicans. The Socialists hold their primary in January.

James Kanter, The New York Times' man in Brussels, pens a story, "As Hopes for European Unity Dim, New E.U. Headquarters Are Glowing," in today's paper comparing the new EU headquarters to a funeral urn. He waits until the last two paragraphs to mention it, along with French and Dutch earthquakes coming in March, but mention it he does:
With far-right, anti-bloc politicians in France and the Netherlands riding high in the polls ahead of elections in 2017, there is widespread speculation that Britain’s departure may be the start of a great unraveling of the European Union. 
For the first time in its history, the bloc’s survival is being openly discussed. Unsurprisingly, the gloom that has descended on Brussels has given rise to a form of black humor, much of it directed at the Europa building. Among the quips: Rather than serving as a lantern, as Mr. Samyn has called his gently curving structure, it could one day be used as a giant funeral urn, to hold the ashes of a collapsed European Union.
Naked Capitalism this morning publishes Ilargi's "2017: Where The Truth Lies," which appeared yesterday on The Automatic Earth. It is so good I need to quote a lot of it. Ilargi sees 2017 as a year of accelerating collapse. The European Union is coming apart. Brexit and Trump are just the beginning:
As for the EU, is it even possible they’re the worst of the bunch? Europe is falling apart before all of our eyes, and they’re all in full tard denial about it. They are turning Greece into a third world country, they’re alienating Britain to the point where the English will, once they wake up to what’s going on, want to set Brussels on fire. And why? There’s no point left to any of it at all.
Italy’s a goner, once enough Italians realize what the ECB wants to do to their banks. France is such a key member nobody wants to even imagine it falling, so its broke banks are ignored. Holland will come very close to voting in Wilders, which means Nexit. Germany is destabilizing rapidly. Spain has been a hornets’ nest for years. Etc.
And again: why? Well, because the Obama/Merkel model has so dramatically failed. All these places where left and right work together to produce a shapeless blob somewhere in the center that has no identity and doesn’t speak out for anyone.
You just wouldn’t know it from reading the Washington Post. Or any comparable old and respected medium in any of these European countries. It’s not just the politics that have failed, it’s its propaganda machine too.
This is something that manifests itself differently in different places, but it shouldn’t be that hard to see the ties that bind it all together. For one thing, because, not even touched on so far, the amount of fake financial news that has been forced down our throats for decades, and increasingly so: the worse things get, the bigger the lie…
There is no economic recovery. Never was. Not in the US, not in Europe anywhere. It’s a fairy tale. There are plates shifting, sure. You can cherry pick a region stateside that does well if only you select the ‘right’ stats. Like you can say employment is on a roll, if you’re willing to discard the number of ‘newly created’ jobs that are part time.
And yes, if you just completely ignore that 94 million Americans are not counted at all in unemployment numbers, Obama has been a big success. It’s just that those 94 million have a vote, too. We will see that exact same dynamic, and we have already started, play out all across Europe.
It’ll be much messier, for instance because in Holland last time I looked 81 different political parties were vying to take part in the upcoming elections, but the end result will be the same. That is, the existing order will be voted out. Not everywhere, and it won’t be replaced by radically different parties and people in all places, but do please understand that it doesn’t have to.
In Europe, it’s not and/and, it’s if/or. As in, if either Italy or France or Holland vote in a party that wants to leave the EU or the Euro, it’s game over. The endgame will be almighty messed up because of all the laws and regulations the EU has invented, but eventually the walls of Brussels will crumble. Good riddance too.
I’ve said it a hundred times before, all the institutions mentioned before, EU, IMF, UN and yes, even Congress, exist by the grace of growth. People accept them only as long as they can show reasonable proof that they bring economic benefits. As soon as that’s gone (or I should say as soon as people figure it out), so are they.
People are going to vote for someone close to their own lives, their own world, to lead them in times of contraction. That is inevitable. It’s why Trump won, and it’s also why he’s set to fail. Isn’t that a lovely paradox? We’re going to split up into smaller entities, economic contraction guarantees it.
And while everyone tries to talk you into thinking that’s terrible, there’s no reason why it should be. We can work together in many different ways. All these supranational institutions have merely become straight jackets that serve only the people who work inside them and those outside who benefit from keeping up appearances and clinging to power.
That of course gets us back to the Washington Post and its comatose brethren. The US press has been a full accomplice with Washington in reporting fake news about the recovery, and it’s not there. Never has been. The Dow Jones says one thing, the votes for Trump say another. In the end, democracy is that simple. Same goes for Britain, same goes for continental Europe.
And there’s no doubt that Trump is an iceberg-sized gamble, but a change had to come. A change from the monsoon of fake news we have all been fed, but also initially a change that won’t be able to help itself from being replete with more fake news, from all sides.
Put it this way: in 2016, the engine of change got cranked up. In the new year, it will accelerate. That is 2017. That is what the new year will bring. 
Ilargi is certainly right when he says, "And while everyone tries to talk you into thinking that’s terrible, there’s no reason why it should be. We can work together in many different ways." But he underestimates the ruthlessness of the elite when it comes to clinging to vanishing status and privilege. Look at the House of Saud. The Kingdom along with USG enablers have managed to tear up the hundred-year-old Sykes-Picot Middle East. The great postwar project, the European Union, is an associated casualty.

War, and more war, is all the rulers have in store for us. Trump's idea, one can make out the contours of it, is to ratchet down conflict in the Greater Middle East and Europe so as to focus on Obama's Asia pivot. Trump imagines the Dragon can be bum-rushed.

Trump is wrong there. And I think he is wrong to think that he can alter the bellicose direction of the Deep State in the Middle East and the New Cold War with Russia. For perpetual war to end the bottom is going to have to drop out first.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Deep State Worried About Al Saud

Another installment in The New York Times' irregular "Secrets of the Kingdom" series appears on the front page this morning.

"Saudi Royal Family Is Still Spending in an Age of Austerity," by Nicholas Kulish and Mark Mazzetti, focuses on "Al Saud Inc.," an "insider" name given to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) that attempts to capture the toxic mixture of Wahhabism, big oil (Saudi Aramco) and an extended, profligate royal family.

Al Saud is obviously in the cross hairs of "the newspaper of record," along with Russia, Fake News and Donald Trump. But in this case, by going after KSA, the Gray Lady is on the side of the angels.

Even within the Deep State, on behalf of which The New York Times speaks, there is a realization that the Kingdom, if left to its own devices, will destroy the neoliberal New World Order.

I think it is too late. The damage has been done. Europe, because of the refugee crisis unleashed by the House of Saud's adventures in Syria and Iraq, is going to find its own way. We'll see that this March.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Blaming Russia Fails to Persuade the Masses

Here is a gem from Lambert Strether's Water Cooler:
“Just one-third of Americans say they believe Russia influenced the 2016 presidential election, according to a new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll” [Politico].. Good proxy for the size of Clinton’s base. Not enough.
After a solid week, possibly more, of incessant haranguing about the evil genius of Putin-directed Russian hackers stealing the presidential election from poor victim Hillary, the mainstream media has largely gone silent on the topic. (The big story now is whether Congress will create a special select committee to investigate the hack or whether existing committees will handle the chore.)

By now New York Times editors, let alone Deep State power brokers, should be able to connect the dots and realize that the "Russians ate poor, poor Hillary's lunch" is a colossal dud. This isn't 1950. Joseph Stalin is long dead. The Democratic Party fosters a tiny fraction of the allegiance it did in the Truman era. Instead Dem stalwarts should get to work on the 2018 midterms -- which as Nate Silver argues in "Democrats Need To Win Elections, Not Flip Electors" could see a change in control of the House -- rather than moaning about Russian bogeymen.

But as I have opined before, blaming the Russians keeps the Bernistas at bay and forestalls any reckoning for the money bags who run the show; it also splits Trump from his own party, as John McCain's almost daily Strangelovian pronouncements make clear. So even if the "Russians did it" is a dud, it is a song that will likely be in steady rotation, both for the internal political ambiance it creates as well as its dulcet neocon tone for U.S. clients among the Gulf emirates.

There is some self-congratulation from the Gray Lady today. "How We Identified the D.N.C. Hack’s ‘Patient Zero’ , " according to a blurb, "[D]etails how [Eric Lipton] and his Times colleagues David E. Sanger and Scott Shane constructed a chronological narrative of one of the most famous hacks in history."


Maybe the sudden disappearance of the Russian hack story from the front page is due to a preponderance of evidence pointing to a leak, whether from someone within the Clinton/Democrat organization or the NSA, rather than a hack.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Rare NYT Story on Mosul Siege Highlights Weakness of U.S. Propaganda

Aleppo and the alleged Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election are the stories that have dominated the front page the last week. Now coverage will shift to the tractor trailer massacre at the Berlin Christmas market -- which Merkel, after a bit of delay, has proclaimed an act of terrorism -- and the assassination in Ankara of the Russian ambassador.

There are still plenty of hyperventilating stories inside the paper about the devastation of Aleppo. What's remarkable is how little reporting of any kind is devoted to the massive U.S.-led operation to the east in Mosul. A reader of The New York Times could be forgiven if she thought a ceasefire was in effect there because nothing is said about the huge military operation.

Yesterday was an exception though. A substantial story appeared, penned by Tim Arango, Eric Schmitt and Rukmini Callimachi, "Hungry, Thirsty and Bloodied in Battle to Retake Mosul From ISIS," part of the purpose of which was to explain why the U.S.-led siege of Mosul is different from the Russian-led siege of Aleppo.

Something to keep in mind: Whenever Eric Schmitt appears in the byline, know that your are getting official USG propaganda. Tim Arango is one of the better reporters on the Gray Lady's staff, and Rukmini Callimachi has written stories basically calling out the Gulf monarchies for funding and maintaining the Islamic State. But with Schmitt on the byline Arango and Callimachi are being minded by a government handler.

Another aside: Each morning I usually take a peek at Foreign Policy's Situation Report by Paul McCleary and Adam Rawnsley. It is a daily roundup of foreign policy news that sticks closely to the Deep State's point of view, i.e., it is thoroughly Russophobic.

Neither yesterday nor today is there a peep about "Hungry, Thirsty and Bloodied in Battle to Retake Mosul From ISIS," which is unusual because most significant NYT reports get a nod from McLeary and Rawnsley.

I mention this because clearly the Pentagon, Langley and Foggy Bottom prefer dynamic silence to prevail when it comes to the siege of Mosul.


Read the opening of Arango et al.'s piece:
ISTANBUL — After two months, the battle to retake the Iraqi city of Mosul from the Islamic State has settled into a grinding war of attrition. The front lines have barely budged in weeks. Casualties of Iraqi security forces are so high that American commanders heading the United States-led air campaign worry that they are unsustainable. Civilians are being killed or injured by Islamic State snipers and growing numbers of suicide bombers.
As the world watches the horrors unfolding in Aleppo, Syria, where government forces and allied militias bombed civilians and carried out summary executions as they retook the last rebel-held areas, a different tragedy is transpiring in Mosul. Up to one million people are trapped inside the city, running low on food and drinking water and facing the worsening cruelty of Islamic State fighters.
ISIS members have become like mad dogs, and every member has the power of immediate execution,” Abu Noor said by telephone from his home on the west side of Mosul, which government forces had not reached, referring to the terror group by one of its acronyms. “We live in constant fear and worry.”
There has been a blackout of Mosul news because beleaguered propagandists of the prestige press, such as Eric Schmitt, are being tasked with an impossible squaring the circle -- justifying one siege as a reasonable, proportionate use of force (Mosul) and another (Aleppo) as bloodthirsty genocide.

It is a high hurdle. We are being asked to believe that the jihadis of Mosul behave more cruelly than the jihadis of Aleppo; that somehow only the ISIS jihadis take hostages and use human shields, while the jihadis of Al Qaeda usher civilians out of harms way.

Two more points. There is a explanation towards the end of the story about why there has been a Mosul news blackout:
When the battle started, in mid-October, it moved fairly quickly as forces took outlying areas that had mostly been empty of civilians.
Journalists were given wide access to the front lines. But recently, getting the news out of Mosul has become more difficult; commanders are prohibiting most front-line embeds.
The tightening of access, apparently, was not an effort to control the narrative [!], but a reaction to the recent appearance in Mosul of Bernard-Henri Lévy, the French philosopher and writer, who is producing a documentary film about the battle. Why was that controversial? Because Mr. Levy is Jewish. 
His appearance stirred outrage in Iraq, and the authorities in Baghdad moved to shut down access for all journalists.
“The rumor spread that we were having relations with Israel,” said Lt. Gen. Abdulwahab al-Saadi, a special forces commander in Mosul, who said he had no idea who Mr. Levy was when he arrived. “In fact, we had no idea who this was that came to see us.” 
He said access for journalists would be restored soon. “We will solve this problem,” he said.
So the news blackout is due to Iraqi anti-Semitism. Got that?

Finally, what about those skyrocketing civilian casualties? Here the article slams up against the limits of credulity.
Civilian casualties are soaring, even though the government, at the outset of the battle, dropped millions of leaflets over the city with instructions to stay inside their homes. Most civilians have, but those who have fled — there are some 90,000 people displaced from their homes around the city — have faced harrowing journeys, and many have been killed or maimed by crossfire.
That so many civilians have remained has hampered the fight, as Iraqi soldiers move slowly in an effort to protect them. It has also led to limited use of air power and artillery.
“Essentially, they are trying a different operational approach,” said Carl Castellano, a senior analyst at Talos, a consulting firm that focuses on security in Iraq. “They don’t have the capability to evacuate all these civilians, and so that’s limiting the amount of firepower they can use in the city. That is limiting their options in terms of what they can do — close air support and everything else.”
American air commanders have quickly sought to modify some of their bombing runs to counter shifting tactics by the Islamic State, cratering streets in Mosul with bombs to stymie car-bombers or at least slow them down, and stepping up attacks on car bomb factories in and around Mosul. Allied warplanes have destroyed nearly 140 car bombs or car-bomb factories since the Mosul offensive began, American officials said.
In the second week of December, nearly 700 civilians were wounded, from gunshots, mines and rocket fire, according to the United Nations, a 30 percent increase from the previous week.
The story does not mention that the planners of the siege originally called on the residents of Mosul to stay and fight. Residents stayed, but there was no mass rebellion.

The story would have us believe that U.S. air power is only being used to hit ISIS car-bomb factories. Bullshit. Air power is and will be used just as it is in Aleppo. To win. And much of Mosul will be destroyed, like the eastern half of Aleppo. The major difference is the propaganda.

Monday, December 19, 2016

No "December Surprise"

Today is the day a "December Surprise" is supposed to happen. As Harvey Wasserman explains,
. . . Donald Trump lost the popular vote by nearly three million votes but is apparently leading in the Electoral College with official victories in five states (Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Florida) where he lost in the exit polls.  Those vote counts were not contested by Hillary Clinton, and green recount attempts in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania were stymied.
Those wanting someone other than Donald Trump to become president must now persuade some 37 electors from states officially won by Trump to not vote for him.  They must either switch those votes to Hillary Clinton or produce at least one electoral vote for a third candidate who would then be selected in the House of Representatives by a majority of the state delegations.
Such a “December Surprise” has never happened in US history.  It would appear to be a Constitutional possibility.  But the only certainty at this point seems to be that the clock is ticking. 
Stay tuned.
There is a December 19 movement which is mobilizing people to come to state capitols "to call on the Electors of the Electoral College to listen to the voice of the people and refuse to cast their ballots for Donald Trump."

Howard Dean's Democracy for America appears to be one of the main groups behind the effort. Turnout very likely will be robust, particularly if unions like SEIU participate.

According to the Wall Street Journal, there is no evidence of a revolt:
But Republicans have said they may lose just one pledged elector, giving Trump more than enough votes to secure the presidency. AP reported Thursday that, based on interviews with more than 330 electors of both parties, there was little evidence of a revolt. Reince Priebus, Trump’s incoming chief of staff, said Sunday on Fox News: "We expect everything to fall in line. Everything is going to be very smooth."
December 19 will come and go with Trump officially triumphant. The real chance to take Trump down was lost when the Stein failed recount. Greg Palast argues convincingly, "The Republican Sabotage of the Vote Recounts in Michigan and Wisconsin," that by blocking hand recounts in Milwaukee, Detroit and Flint state GOP officials prevented thousands of votes from being counted and likely saved both states for Trump. Philadelphia also declined to conduct a hand recount. Ballots were just fed back through the optical scan machines a second time. So anyone who marked an 'X' across the bubble on his/her ballot likely went uncounted again.

Trump won Wisconsin by 22,000 votes; Michigan, 10,000; Pennsylvania, 34,000. Jill Stein claimed victory because she was able to show the flaws in the way we vote. But this was just spin. Stein's effort was blocked at every step by Republican elected officials and the courts. In this turbulent news environment when everyone is being inundated with Russian hackers and dead babies in Aleppo, few paid attention to the recount.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

NFL Ratings Drop Revisited

National Football League television ratings have rebounded from the doldrums of October, but they are still below last year's, according to an article by Thomas Barrabi, "NFL TV Ratings See Post-Election Boost":
Since the election, national NFL games across broadcast and cable are averaging an audience of 18 million viewers, according to Nielsen data obtained by That’s a nearly 17% increase from the period from the start of the season up until the election, when national NFL games drew an average of 15.4 million viewers.
Sustained success by the 11-1 Dallas Cowboys, owner of the NFL’s largest fan base, has helped to boost TV ratings. The Cowboys’ win over the Washington Redskins drew 35.1 million viewers, the highest total for a regular-season game in more than two decades. Similar, the Cowboys’ victory over the Minnesota Vikings on December 1 drew 21.8 million viewers, making it the most-watched Thursday Night Football game in the series’ history.
The data suggests that at least some viewers are dedicating more time to the NFL since the outcome of the election was decided on November 8. But overall, TV ratings are still down across the board compared to last year.
During the 2015 season, CBS said it drew an average of 19.1 million viewers, while FOX said it drew an average of 20.75 million viewers.
NFL media executives addressed the ratings decline in an internal memo in October. At the time, ratings across all networks were down 11% through the first four weeks of the season, ESPN’s Darren Rovell reported.
"Prime-time windows have clearly been affected the most, while declines during the Sunday afternoon window are more modest," NFL executives, Brian Rolapp and Howard Katz, wrote in the memo obtained by ESPN. "While our partners, like us, would have liked to see higher ratings, they remain confident in the NFL and unconcerned about a long-term issue."
Aside from election coverage, pundits offered the NFL’s concussion scandal, a series of player protests during the National Anthem, cord-cutting and the league’s oversaturation of the television market as potential reasons for its ratings struggles.
President-elect Donald Trump took credit for the ratings decline during an October rally in Cincinnati, Ohio.
“Then you look at the NFL. Well, now they should start recovering, but their ratings were so far down, and you know what that reason was? This -- because this business is tougher than the NFL,” Trump said.
NFL executives are whistling past the graveyard. The ratings drop is clearly a long-term issue. If not for the spectacular season of "America's Team" -- for some reason people have always loved the Dallas Cowboys -- viewership would be down by more than a couple million.

As a general principle I like to pay attention to low-brow entertainment -- professional football, comic books, etc. -- because I believe it corroborates aspects of the political zeitgeist.

In the case of the NFL ratings drop, I think it mirrors the loss of faith in the Establishment, the political and mainstream media, whatever you want to call the reigning center, that has led to the rise of Trump and now the Deep State's counterattack by ginning up a Fake News crisis against a New Cold War/McCarthyite backdrop.

The NFL will have no such recourse. A majority of the games remain terrible, nearly unwatchable, like Sunday's Green Bay blowout of Seattle. The Seahawks have never been blown out in the Russell Wilson era. That's four years never having lost a game by more than ten points. That's an amazing achievement. A first like that has to augur something.

One could argue that it is just a natural changing of the guard. But it is not. Rising powers like Tampa and Tennessee remain mediocre. Overall offenses are inconsistent and defenses don't dominate. Performances are weird, lackluster.

I think the reality of CTE and the enormous amounts of money are finally suffocating amazing athleticism. Repeat head trauma and corporate concentration of wealth pretty well sums up the United States.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Whose Fake News?

Based on Jennifer Steinhauer's "Senate and House Leaders Call for Inquiry of Russian Hacking in Election" it looks like there will be three separate congressional investigations on purported Russian cyber-meddling in the U.S. presidential election:
[A] continuing investigation by Representative Devin Nunes of California, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
[T]he Senate investigation would be led by Senator Richard M. Burr, Republican of North Carolina, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee. Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, will add a subcommittee to look into cyberattacks, led by Mr. Graham.
“The first thing we want to establish is, ‘Did the Russians hack into our political system?’” Mr. Graham said in an interview on Monday. “Then you work outward from there. I have a high degree of confidence Russia did this.”
Graham is a preeminent neocon. So the findings of his subcommittee, as his quote makes clear, are preordained.

At the same time, the Senate has passed a "ministry of truth" bill designed to counter the fictional tsunami of Fake News conjured by Poseidon Putin.

Simultaneously, the U.S. and its clients in the Gulf monarchies are about to lose their Stalingrad in Aleppo.

Fake News is what the organs of the mainstream press produce. Read Anne Barnard's latest, "Aleppo Close to Falling Under Complete Control of Syrian Government." Barnard reports from Beirut. A couple of years back she used to write somewhat critical pieces about the Syrian National Coalition and the Free Syrian Army.

The myth of a secular, democratic opposition has almost entirely been scrapped. Now the "moderate opposition" label is applied with a wink and nod to mean "our jihadis."

This is on display in Barnard's work of the last several months. She is in communication with the "opposition" still holed up in the eastern part of Aleppo. She emails, she texts, she calls from her bureau in Beirut. She can't travel to any of these areas controlled by the "opposition" because she would be kidnapped and held for ransom, or worse. The only time Barnard has traveled to Syria recently has been at the invitation of the government. She met with Assad.

In any event, almost all of Barnard stories in the last month or two follow a pattern. She talks to someone in Aleppo -- 95 percent of the time it is someone in eastern half of the divided city, not the government controlled western part -- and that someone says something to the effect, "I am dying. The government is killing me. Bodies are everywhere. Babies are dead all around."

Mostly she doesn't explicitly identify who she is speaking with because who she is speaking with are jihadis. Here is a sample which ends today's article:
Malek, an activist who asked to be identified only by his first name for fear that he would soon find himself in government territory, said he had moved on Monday to a safer place for the 10th time since the offensive began, along with his cats, Rocky and Loz, the Arabic word for almond.
“Why should I lie? I’m not well,” he said in a series of voice messages. “We are people, are being deleted from the human map. We have two neighborhoods and one street, and the regime will keep bombing this small area.”
Bodies were stuck under the rubble, Malek said, and even members of the White Helmets civil defense group could not rescue anyone, because the group’s equipment had been destroyed and their members scattered by the shelling.
Still attempting to find humor, he said that his cat Rocky had lost “his fiancée” along the way. “Now he’s lonely,” Malek said.
Dr. Salem, a dentist who had kept his clinic open until last week, finally moved to one of the last rebel neighborhoods as his own was taken by government forces. He said he walked through streets shrouded in smoke, and littered with the dead and wounded, to a small area where thousands were crowded in a shrinking space. “There will be a massacre if one rocket falls here,” said Dr. Salem, using only his first name.
The only way that dentist could operate was if he had the support of the jihadis who control the territory. If he were a secular, "moderate" democrat he would have been purged.

What Barnard produces is propaganda. Plain and simple. Fake News. What the Fake News crisis is all about is that the mainstream media has lost control of the narrative. What we are witnessing is a futile attempt to re-legitimize the mainstream, a mainstream, founded on war and ever-increasing inequality, that has lost all credibility.

Monday, December 12, 2016

New McCarthyite Congressional Investigations Coming Our Way

If you read this morning's frontpager by Mark Mazzetti and Eric Lichtblau, "C.I.A. Judgment on Russia Built on Swell of Evidence," you will find that the story does not merit the headline. The story repeats the same old stuff -- the DNC hack, the Podesta emails, the RNC hack -- and then says that CIA analysts have shifted their opinion from believing that Russia sought to sow chaos to Russia intended to elect Donald Trump. That conjecture is all there is.

Mazzetti and Lichtblau then, helpfully, mention that the FBI, the agency which is actually in charge of investigating the hacks and bringing charges against any guilty party, is unconvinced that Russia tried to steal the presidency on behalf of Trump:
And yet, there is skepticism within the American government, particularly at the F.B.I., that this evidence adds up to proof that the Russians had the specific objective of getting Mr. Trump elected.
A senior American law enforcement official said the F.B.I. believed that the Russians probably had a combination of goals, including damaging Mrs. Clinton and undermining American democratic institutions. Whether one of those goals was to install Mr. Trump remains unclear to the F.B.I., he said.
The official played down any disagreement between the F.B.I. and the C.I.A., and suggested that the C.I.A.’s conclusions were probably more nuanced than they were being framed in the news media.
The agencies’ differences in judgment may also reflect different methods of investigating the Russian interference. The F.B.I., which has both a law enforcement and an intelligence role, is held to higher standards of proof in examining people involved in the hacking because it has an eye toward eventual criminal prosecutions. The C.I.A. has a broader mandate to develop intelligence assessments.
Law enforcement officials said that if F.B.I. agents had the evidence to charge Russians with specific crimes, they would do so. The F.B.I. and federal prosecutors have already gone aggressively after Russian hackers, including two men detained in Thailand and the Czech Republic whom the United States is trying to extradite.
Russia has tried to block those efforts and has accused the United States of harassing its citizens.
The F.B.I. began investigating Russia’s apparent attempts to meddle in the election over the summer. Agents examined numerous possible connections between Russians and members of Mr. Trump’s inner circle, including former Trump aides like Paul Manafort and Carter Page, as well as a mysterious and unexplained trail of computer activity between the Trump Organization and an email account at a large Russian bank, Alfa Bank [which turned out to be nothing].
At the height of its investigation before the election, the F.B.I. saw some indications that the Russians might be explicitly seeking to get Mr. Trump elected, officials said, and investigators collected online evidence and conducted interviews overseas and inside the United States to test that theory.
The F.B.I. was concerned enough about Russia’s influence and possible connections to the Trump campaign that it briefed congressional leaders — including Senator Harry Reid, the Nevada Democrat and Senate minority leader — on some of the evidence this summer and fall. Mr. Reid, in particular, pressed for the F.B.I. to find out more and charged that the agency was sitting on important information that could implicate Russia.
But the agency’s suspicions about a direct effort by Russia to help Mr. Trump, or about possible connections between the two camps, appear to have waned as the investigation continued into September and October. The reasons are not entirely clear, and F.B.I. officials declined to comment.
Now that a partisan squall has erupted over exactly what role Russia played in influencing the election, there is growing momentum among both Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill to have a congressional investigation.
“I’m not trying to relitigate the election,” said Senator Angus King, independent of Maine, who is one of the lawmakers calling for such an investigation. “I’m just trying to prevent this from happening again.”
Is this an attempted coup? I don't think so. I think it is business as usual. The Democratic Party is in serious trouble. The party leaders do not want to relinquish power to the Bernistas and they don't want the Republicans to coalesce behind Trump and pass a bunch of legislation. How can they achieve what they want in their present diminished state? Reboot the Cold War and McCarthyism. Conduct a big congressional investigation that will keep Democrats from straying from the reservation and isolate Trump from his party.

It is a desperate play, but it is the hand that Democratic leadership is playing. Read Krugman, "The Tainted Election," and the lede unsigned editorial this morning, "Russia’s Hand in America’s Election." It is not going to work, particularly when the activist base of the Democrats are getting their information from outlets that have been smeared as Kremlin dupes.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Laying the First Bricks of the Western Great Firewall

Western neoliberal orthodoxy, though discredited, its high priests headed off to retirement or the unemployment line, appears to be in need of a quick and dirty technological patch.

As soon as Trump won the U.S. presidential election, stories started appearing in the mainstream media about the role Fake News played in securing his victory.

Fake News has a neo-McCarthyite overlay in that all this false information that is purportedly pulsating through the internet is of a Kremlin origin.

So the empire strikes back. You could see this coming in stories from Europe published in the last couple of weeks. Fake News was being mentioned in the same sentence as hate speech. Clearly the plan is to conflate the two, and have the giant tech companies -- Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter -- design a filter, a censorship program, to remove offensive content. In other words, a corporate Western version of the Chinese Great Firewall. Europe will test the beta version, and then the U.S. will follow.

The tech giants actually kicked things off on Monday when they announced an effort to censor terrorist content on the internet. Then yesterday the European Commission published its "Code of Conduct on countering illegal hate speech online." All that needs to be done is to categorize Fake News as a variant of hate speech. And lo and behold! We have ourselves a Western Great Firewall.

Yves Smith weighs in this morning with "Witch Hunt: “Fake News” Software Touted by CBS Smears Naked Capitalism, ShadowProof, TruthDig, Others; Creator Admits He Made Up Who Went on Hit Li[s]t":
The faith in coders coming up with a magic bullet for information validation is similarly questionable. The concern about “fake news” on the Internet is almost comical given that more citizens encounter “fake news” via seeing National Enquirer and National Examiner covers in grocery stores than via websites. It is not hard to imagine that much of the tender concern expressed by the mainstream media is commercial: independent news and analysis sites threaten their legitimacy by exposing how dependent they are on stories planted by government or business source that these press outlets often fail to vet adequately.
Hallelujah! The irony of this post-election Fake News crisis is that if there is any substance to the issue it is due to the ad-driven revenue model of the tech giants. Fake Newsies aren't agents of the Kremlin but people of modest means hustling to concoct click bait to generate income from ad placement (see "Inside a Fake News Sausage Factory: ‘This Is All About Income’."

Let me quote Mark Scott's "Europe Presses American Tech Companies to Tackle Hate Speech" in full. The first bricks of the Western Great Firewall are being laid.
European officials pushed on Tuesday for American technology giants to do more to tackle online hate speech across the region, adding to the chorus of policy makers worldwide demanding greater action from the likes of Facebook, Google and Twitter.
The rebuke came a day after many of those companies announced that they were joining forces to fight the spread of terrorist content on the internet, agreeing to share technology and information to prevent propaganda and other dangerous materials from being disseminated on their services.
Amid growing security tensions in much of the Western world, governments, intelligence agencies and advocacy groups want Google, Microsoft and other technology companies to take further steps to curb hate speech on digital platforms, as well as to clamp down on how terrorists circulate information online.
But freedom of expression campaigners have warned that such demands may limit people’s ability to communicate across the internet, and they have cautioned that the line between hate speech and legitimate political discussion can be blurry.
In a report published on Tuesday, however, the European authorities signaled that only 40 percent of material flagged as possible hate speech online (albeit in a relatively small sample of 600 posts, videos and other online material) had been reviewed by the Silicon Valley companies within 24 hours. Of those 600 postings, just over a quarter was eventually taken down, the report said.
“While I.T. companies are moving in the right direction, the first results show that the I.T. companies will need to do more to make it a success,” Vera Jourova, the European commissioner for justice, consumers and gender equality, said in a statement. “It is our duty to protect people in Europe from incitement to hatred and violence online.”
Press officers for Google and Microsoft declined to comment. Representatives for Facebook and Twitter were not immediately available to comment.
In a recent interview, Richard Allen, Facebook’s head of public policy in Europe, said that the social network was committed to tackling hate speech online, but that there was a fine line between what was legitimate under freedom of speech laws and what was required to protect people online.
“Our policies provide protection from hate speech,” Mr. Allen said last month. “We shouldn’t apply media regulation to the speech of ordinary citizens.”
The report on Tuesday is part of European efforts to coax American technology companies to take more responsibility for what is published through their services. In May, companies including Google, Facebook and Twitter signed a voluntary code of conduct, agreeing to do more to tackle the rise of online hate speech across the 28-member European Union.
Some lawmakers, though, are not satisfied.
In Germany, where Facebook, in particular, has come under scrutiny, a government-backed task force is to report early next year on whether the social network, among other companies, has met national targets for responding to — and potentially eliminating — hate speech. Officials want companies to remove at least 70 percent of online hate speech within 24 hours of it being reported.
Heiko Maas, the German justice minister, has said that Facebook could even be held criminally liable for illegal hate speech posts, and he has called for legislation if the company does not meet its legal commitments.
“Facebook has a certain responsibility to uphold the laws,” Mr. Maas said.
The social network denies any wrongdoing.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Pussy Riot Reappraised

Pussy Riot, the punk-rock/guerilla-protest collective, was in the business page yesterday, interviewed by the soft-spoken Jim Rutenberg for a piece titled "A Warning for Americans From a Member of Pussy Riot." The member, Nadya Tolokonnikova, was in Miami for Art Basel, the annual jet set international art fair.

Based on her new video, “Make America Great Again,” Tolokonnikova has left her ski mask and her faux-punk behind and is now angling in a Madonna/Lady Gaga direction. She is trying to hit the jackpot in the United States.

It is easy to make fun of Pussy Riot, at least the solemn expressions of concern for the group's artistic freedom belched out by the USG/NGO nexus, but Tolokonnikova and Masha Alyokhina did support Occupy Wall Street, visiting imprisoned Cecily McMillan on Rikers Island. Plus, Tolokonnikova publicly backed Bernie Sanders. So it is doubtful that Pussy Riot is a creation of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED).

Rutenberg, a champion of internet censorship in the form of policing Fake News, steered the conversation towards the dangers of authoritarianism and the crisis of belief in objective truth.
But truth cannot break through if people never find it or believe it when they do. And the problem in Russia is the same one we’re seeing here, Ms. Tolokonnikova told me. “A lot of people are living really unwealthy lives so they have to work not one but two jobs, so they don’t have time to analyze and check facts, and you cannot blame them,” she said.
And, after so many years in which the “lift-all-boats” promises of globalization didn’t come to pass, she said, “they don’t trust bureaucrats, they don’t trust politicians, and they don’t really trust media.”
That’s why the top Russian propagandist Dmitry K. Kiselyov can assert that “objectivity is a myth” and, here in the United States, the paid CNN Trump-supporting contributor Scottie Nell Hughes can declare: “There’s no such thing, unfortunately, anymore, of facts.
When there is no truth, invasions are “liberations” and internment camps are “relocation centers.”
But, as Ms. Tolokonnikova said, “There is always a way if you really want to tell the truth.”
Doing so, for her, has come at a cost, even after prison. Informal Cossack security forces beat her and other Pussy Riot members as they prepared to perform in Sochi during the 2014 Olympics. That same year, a youth gang attacked her with trash and a green antiseptic chemical in Nizhny Novgorod, where she was protesting prison conditions. The men were clearly identifiable but, she said, police made no arrests.
Ms. Tolokonnikova has also co-founded a news site called Media Zona. She said it avoided opinion so that readers would accept it as a just-the-facts counter to disinformation.
“You are always in danger of being shut down,” she said. “But it’s not the end of the story because we are prepared to fight.”
Her counsel for United States journalists: You better be, too.
I am not so sure about Media Zone. There appears to be a lot of stuff on Navalny's ongoing legal battles, but there is also a feature on the recent prison strike in the U.S.

What struck me was Tolokonnikova's critique of globalization to a newspaper, The New York Times, whose entire mission is to spread the gospel of globalization.

Monday, December 5, 2016

The Failure of the New McCarthyism

Yesterday was a big news day. Italy's constitutional overhaul was handily defeated at the polls, prompting premier Matteo Renzi to say that he will tender his resignation today; the Standing Rock Sioux triumphed, at least temporarily, in blocking the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) from being routed beneath a dammed section of the Missouri River; and the Freedom Party underwhelmed Austrian voters, failing to unseat Alexander Van der Bellen in a do-over of last spring's presidential election.

All good news, I would say, though it is a little troubling to read (Jack Healy and Nicholas Fandos, "Army Blocks Drilling of Dakota Access Oil Pipeline") that Dave Archambault is telling all the water protectors to pack up and go home:
“It’s wonderful,” Dave Archambault II, the Standing Rock tribal chairman, told cheering supporters who stood in the melting snow on a mild North Dakota afternoon. “You all did that. Your presence has brought the attention of the world.”
The decision, he said, meant that people no longer had to stay at the camp during North Dakota’s brutal winter. The Corps of Engineers, which manages the land, had ordered it to be closed, but the thousands of protesters had built yurts, tepees and bunkhouses and vowed to hunker down.
“It’s time now that we move forward,” Mr. Archambault said. “We don’t have to stand and endure this hard winter. We can spend the winter with our families.”
Clearly the Army can reverse itself, and is likely to do so, once Trump gets into office. Many are promising to stay camped through the winter. But if the chairman of the tribe wants people to go home, that puts the water protectors at odds with their host.

This victory was won because of the robust numbers the indigenous peoples were able to marshal, the coup de grace being the arrival of the veterans. Now, the camp will shrink, and in a month or two, there will be a nighttime raid, a la NYPD of Occupy Wall Street, and that, very likely, will be that.

An interesting aspect of Renzi's flame-out is that in the run-up to Sunday's referendum he resorted to the Fake News playbook, accusing the "no" camp of spreading Russian-inspired false stories to gain advantage at the polls. Jason Horowitz's "Spread of Fake News Provokes Anxiety in Italy" is case in point (Horowitz is one of the reporters that NYT assigned to do hatchet jobs on Bernie Sanders during the Democratic primary):
As early as April, Mr. Renzi complained privately to his counterparts about Russia meddling in his country’s politics by supporting anti-establishment parties.
In November, he privately discussed the spread of fake news with other European leaders and President Obama at a meeting in Berlin. Mr. Obama forcefully assailed the phenomenon while standing beside Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, who has warned of Russian misinformation campaigns that “could play a role” in her own re-election bid.
Mr. Renzi’s private concerns were relayed by several current and former officials with knowledge of the conversations who were not authorized to speak publicly.
His biggest domestic opponent has been the surging and anti-establishment Five Star Movement, which would benefit most should he lose Sunday’s referendum on streamlining Italy’s bureaucracy.
Laura Boldrini, the speaker of the lower house of Parliament, said she had no information about whether the Five Star Movement trafficked in fake news or promulgated Russian propaganda. But she did say it was a growing problem in Italy.
“Fake news is a critical issue and we can’t ignore it,” she said this week. “We have to act now.”
On Wednesday, Ms. Boldrini met with Richard Allan, Facebook’s vice president of public policy in Europe, to discuss ways Facebook could limit hate speech and fake news on its pages.
“They can’t pretend that they are just a platform,” Ms. Boldrini said. “They are giant media companies.”
Buzzfeed and the Italian newspaper La Stampa recently reported that blogs, social media accounts and websites in Russia connected to the Five Star Movement were spreading fake news harmful to Mr. Renzi across their vast virtual networks.
Russia has long had close relations with Italy, especially under Silvio Berlusconi, the former prime minister and media tycoon who was a personal friend of Mr. Putin.
The story goes on to paint the Five Star Movement (M5S) as Kremlin dupes.

Fake News is a sure sign of the weakness and desperation that has taken hold of the neoliberal ruling class. Absent any proof that dire warnings about Fake News are effective in keeping voters aligned with a bankrupt neoliberal orthodoxy, the New McCarthyism has spread from Washington to Rome and Berlin.

My sense is that the New McCarthyism will soon have to be scrapped. It is not working; worse still, it is generating a significant push-back.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Say Goodbye to the Unipolar World: The End of Neoliberal Orthodoxy as We Know It

This Sunday two big votes will take place in Europe: Italy's constitutional referendum, and a do-over in Austria of last spring's presidential election. A "no" vote in Italy combined with a win by Norbert Hofer and his far-right Freedom Party will provide further proof of a rising populist tide in Europe that is swamping the old, almost completely discredited governing neoliberal orthodoxy.

An editorial yesterday in The New York Times, "Italy's Turn to Vote," pleads with Renzi to stay on as prime minister (he has promised to resign) if the constitutional referendum fails. The failure of the referendum -- which basically does away with the senate, making it easier to ram through structural adjustments in labor and tax law (the standard neoliberal "Washington Consensus" playbook) -- appears to be inevitable.

A piece in The Guardian yesterday, "Italy referendum: all you need to know about Renzi's crunch vote," summarizes:
You seem to be predicting that Renzi is going to lose. Are you sure?No. But almost all of the available polls show Renzi is behind and the country seems to be fed up with him. You never know, though: a whole host of factors, including a simmering scandal in Sicily about M5S, could diminish turnout for no and hand Renzi a victory. He could also get overwhelming support from up to 4 million Italian voters abroad, which could tip the scales in his favour in a close election. It just seems unlikely.
If he does lose and there is a new election, would M5S win?
There is a strong chance M5S could win based on current polls, but it is not a certainty. The party’s lack of experience could give Italians pause. One senator, Francesco Palermo, thinks that whoever wins – including M5S – would be far to the right of Renzi, putting much more pressure on Italy’s relationship with the EU, and probably leading to big changes in the country’s handling of the migration crisis.
Some of Italy’s biggest banks are in bad shape. How will the referendum affect the banking sector?There is increasing alarm that the political upheaval created by a potential no victory would disrupt plans to recapitalise Italy’s most troubled banks, including Banca Monte dei Paschi of Siena. Shares in Italy’s beleaguered banking sector are down more than 20% since Brexit, in large part because investors are worried about the outcome.
The failure of Renzi is an important moment in the collapse of neoliberalism. Renzi was once the great young hope to reanimate hoary neoliberal shibboleths such as "creative destruction," "competitiveness," etc. (See the Council of Foreign Relation's "A Conversation with Matteo Renzi.") If Renzi loses Sunday, coming at the same time that a lamed Obama vacates the White House and that Justin Trudeau has just approved the expansion of a massive pipeline to transport Alberta tar sands to British Columbia, there will be no telegenic pitchman left to front the neoliberal orthodoxy.

What is to be done?

The elite are desperate. They see no path forward. Europe tucked firmly under the wing of the American eagle is how U.S. global hegemony works. Brexit is a slow-motion crisis for Pax Americana; likewise Trump. The New McCarythism and wails about "fake news" are a "back to the future" Hail Mary to keep the revolting masses fenced in on the neoliberal reservation while the media monopoly hemorrhages ad revenue month in and month out. (The only business model that makes sense for the big daily newspapers is government subsidy.)

The bottom will drop out this spring in France. In a way it already has. The Socialists, who hold their presidential primary in January, are kaput. This means that with the nomination of Francois Fillon last Sunday, the runoff will almost certainly feature two candidates -- Fillon and Marine Le Pen -- who favor ending trade sanctions against Russia.

The U.S. engineered coup in Kiev, part of a strategy to block Germany's Ostpolitik integration of Russian into Europe, can be declared a failure. Say goodbye to the unipolar world.