Friday, July 21, 2017

Post-Mortem on U.S. Covert War Against Syria

As the lamentations stream in following the public announcement that Trump has pulled the plug on the U.S. covert effort to topple the Syrian government, there is this surprisingly balanced post-mortem from Joshua Landis, "Terminating CIA Support for Syrian Rebels Sounds Death Knell for Western Attempt to Roll Back Iran and Russia in Syria," which appeared yesterday on his Syria Comment blog:
The end of Western support for Syria’s militant opposition has been clear since radicals began setting off bombs in European capitals.
Trump’s decision to stop support for Syrian rebels will be the final nail in the coffin of those factions which draw salaries from the CIA. They will be forced to pursue other careers.
More radical groups, such as those historically connected to al-Qaida and Ahrar al-Sham will also suffer from this decision. The radical militias prey on the weaker ones. They extort arms and money from the CIA-supported factions. The porous Syrian border with Turkey can now also be shut more tightly. The need to push resources to the CIA-vetted militias, kept border crossings open to all rebels, including al-Qaida. Factions merge and regroup with such regularity, that border guards could not know who was fighting for what end.
This is the last gasp for America’s policy of regime-change which has so compromised its efforts to promote democracy and human rights in a part of the world that needs both.
Landis, in language that portrays the CIA as a victim rather than as a perpetrator, acknowledges what could never be acknowledged in the mainstream media -- that the two principal Salafist, non-ISIS combatants were funded and armed by the U.S. government. As mea culpas go I guess it's better than nothing.

In the meantime, Trump shouldn't be lauded as a peace champion yet. The Pentagon is claiming territory in Syria's northeast in support of the Kurds. In the near term this is going to be more of a problem for Turkey than it is for Syria. Kurdish sovereignty is where the bouncing ball will fall next.

When I read the news yesterday I wondered "Whither Anne Barnard?" The New York Times Beirut bureau chief was such a stalwart advocate for the CIA Salafis, Skyping, texting, telephoning every heartbreaking jihadi thought and heroic deed, yet she hasn't been heard from in over a month, about the same time Trump's rollback of the CIA's covert war went into effect.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Who Killed Dag Hammarskjold? Probably the CIA

An interesting, well-written story from this past weekend that I missed until this morning is "Do Spy Agencies Hold Answer to Dag Hammarskjold’s Death? U.N. Wants to Know." Written by Alan Cowell and Rick Gladstone, the article tells the story of CIA, British Foreign Office and Belgian intelligence services foot-dragging when it comes to complying with information requests made by Mohamed Chande Othman, a former chief justice of Tanzania, who has been tasked by the General Assembly of the United Nations with reviewing all the evidence and assessing the need for further inquiry into the mysterious 1961 plane-crash death of Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold:
Mr. Othman declined to speak about the findings ahead of submitting the report. But senior United Nations officials and other associates of Mr. Othman said he had compiled detailed new questions about intercepted radio communications and other aircraft in the area as Mr. Hammarskjold’s plane went down eight miles from Ndola’s airfield — and that the answers may be found in the intelligence archives of the United States, Britain and Belgium.
“We know from available information that they know much more than what they’re saying,” said one of the senior United Nations officials, referring to the government keepers of those archives. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a confidential United Nations report.
One theory is that the DC-6 may have been attacked or harassed by a French-built Fouga Magister fighter jet operated by secessionist forces in the southern Congolese province of Katanga, who were resisting Mr. Hammarskjold’s efforts to end their rebellion.
Seven months before the crash, three Fouga Magisters had been delivered to the secessionists aboard an American-owned cargo plane that was supposed to be delivering food. President John F. Kennedy was deeply embarrassed by the delivery, which was later reported to have been a C.I.A. operation.
Whether a Fouga was in the Ndola area on the night of the crash remains unknown, despite earlier assurances to Mr. Othman from the C.I.A. that it had no records of a fighter jet’s presence there, a senior United Nations official said.
Mr. Othman has also put new questions to Britain and Belgium about the findings of their own intelligence services. Essentially, the senior United Nations official said, Mr. Othman had asked Western governments to carry out “more exhaustive searches and comprehensive searches” through their archives.
His inquiries also include questions about two American military intelligence officials at different listening posts on the night of the crash, one of whom has since died. Both claimed years later to have overheard radio intercepts that suggested the DC-6 had been shot down. Mr. Othman has also inquired about whether an official American DC-3 aircraft had been parked at the Ndola airfield that night.
To skeptics of the official accounts, the apparent reluctance by the big powers to share all they know with Mr. Othman is inexplicable, suggesting they are hoping for interest in the case to fade away.
David Wardrop, the chairman of the United Nations Association Westminster Branch, a group in London that has supported further inquiry into Mr. Hammarskjold’s death, said the responses by Britain and the United States appeared to show they had decided that “slothfulness is the best way to exhaust the U.N.’s process.”
States assassinate individuals. Is there any doubt? I am reminded of David Graeber's book The Utopia of Rules (2015). The state -- whether it's applying for a driver's license or attending grade school -- exists because of an ever-present promise of violence.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Deep State Moves to Delegitimize Saudi Crown Prince

This morning The New York Times has published a story, "Saudi King’s Son Plotted Effort to Oust His Rival," describing the removal of crown prince Mohammed bin Nayef (MBN) in favor of the youthful Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) not merely as a change in the line of succession to the throne of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia but as a coup:
Before midnight, Mohammed bin Nayef was told he was going to meet the king and was led into another room, where royal court officials took away his phones and pressured him to give up his posts as crown prince and interior minister, according to United States officials and an associate of the royal family.
At first, he refused. But as the night wore on, the prince, a diabetic who suffers from the effects of a 2009 assassination attempt by a suicide bomber, grew tired.
Meanwhile, royal court officials called members of the Allegiance Council, a body of princes who are supposed to approve changes to the line of succession. Some were told that Mohammed bin Nayef had a drug problem and was unfit to be king, according to an associate of the royal family.
One American official and one adviser to a Saudi royal said Mohammed bin Nayef opposed the embargo on Qatar, a stand that probably accelerated his ouster.
Sometime before dawn, Mohammed bin Nayef agreed to resign. A video shot afterward shows Mohammed bin Salman kissing his hand.
The extent of support for the elevation of Mohammed bin Salman in the family remains unclear. Saudi state news media reported that 31 of the 34 members of the Allegiance Council supported the change, but analysts said many royals are hesitant to vote against the king’s wishes.
Some United States officials and well-connected Saudis say there are rumblings of discontent, and analysts have pointed out hints.
Neither King Salman nor his son attended the Group of 20 summit meeting in Hamburg, Germany, even though one of the two men had attended each of the last three meetings. Analysts say that family disputes may have kept the men at home or that they did not want to face criticism for the isolation they and three other Arab states imposed on Qatar.
This story by the NYT is a shot across al-Saud's bow, a companion to WaPo's story Sunday that identified the United Arab Emirates as orchestrating the hack "of Qatari government news and social media sites in order to post incendiary false quotes attributed to Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad al-Thani, in late May that sparked the ongoing upheaval between Qatar and its neighbors, according to U.S. intelligence officials."

NYT's coup story coincides with the "Gang of Four" (KSA, UAE, Bahrain & Egypt) blinking in their standoff with Qatar. (See Rick Gladstone's "Countries That Broke Ties With Qatar Indicate Some Flexibility on Demands.")

Mohammed bin Salman is smart enough to know that he is being delegitimized in the prestige press by anonymous quotes from "U.S. intelligence officials." The prestige press is also starting to come out against MBS's war in Yemen. Opposition is developing in both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.

It can't come at a worse time for Saudi Arabia which is on the verge of an IPO for Saudi Aramco.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Amazon is the Deep State

Making a purchase on Amazon has become as American as apple pie (and drone assassinations). This morning Niqnaq posts part one, "Amazon cashes in on war crimes and mass surveillance," of a two-part story, "Amazon and the CIA: a match made in hell," by WSWS's Evan Blake:
In recent years, the multinational corporation Amazon has risen to become the preeminent online retail giant and the fourth most valuable company in the world. One of Amazon’s most significant business contracts, which has largely been kept hidden from the public since it was finalized in October 2013, was a $600 million deal for Amazon Web Services (AWS) to build a private computing cloud for the 17 American intelligence agencies known collectively as the “intelligence community” (IC).
The deal initiated Amazon’s ever-deepening integration with the American state, and implicates the company in the international war crimes, mass spying and repressive operations carried out by the spy agencies of American imperialism. Similar to the Krupp company, which supplied arms to the German military during World Wars I and II, Amazon today provides the technological scaffolding for the wars waged by American imperialism.
The sharing of data—facilitated by Amazon—enables scenarios to take place where the CIA, NSA, NGA and the Air Force collaborate to identify, precisely locate and carry out the drone assassination of anyone deemed to be a “terrorist,” including American citizens. Thanks to Amazon, the spy agencies can now more seamlessly conspire to carry out bloody military campaigns, such as the military assault on Mosul, or secretly orchestrate the Saudi-led war against Yemen. They are no doubt using such technology to simulate and prepare for the long-planned wars against North Korea, Iran, China and Russia, which threaten to coalesce into a new, catastrophic World War between nuclear-armed powers.
In mid-2012, the CIA began conducting negotiations with AWS, IBM and an unnamed third corporation to decide which company would win the 10-year, highly lucrative contract to create the private cloud for the IC, which had to be capable of analyzing 100 terabytes of raw data at a time, an immense figure.
In February 2013, the CIA secretly selected Amazon as the winning bidder. IBM filed a bid protest, claiming they had offered a lower price than Amazon, but in October 2013, the US Court of Federal Claims sided with Amazon, which then began to build the C2S cloud infrastructure. The cloud became operational in the summer of 2014, with then-CIA chief information officer Doug Wolfe praising it as “one of the most important technology procurements in recent history.”
Last month, current CIA CIO John Edwards declared in a speech at AWS’ Public Sector Summit, “It’s the best decision we’ve ever made... It’s the most innovative thing we’ve ever done... It is having a material impact on both the CIA and the IC.”
There were a number of factors that led the CIA to partner with Amazon, one of which was their ability to save money in the long-term. While $600 million is an enormous sum, at that point the IC was spending upwards of $8 billion annually to store and analyze the billions of pieces of metadata, phone and internet records, and other information that it was collecting en masse on its self-built servers, as noted in documents leaked by Edward Snowden.
Amazon’s cloud-based server offered a means to significantly reduce these costs, as it had a unique ability to scale up or down to meet the storage, computing and analytics needs of the IC at a given time. Amazon would also incorporate any innovations or improvements devised by their engineers, which happen on an almost daily basis, directly into the C2S cloud.
The genius of U.S. corporate capitalism is the manner in which it compromises us all. We bank with one of the too-big-to-fail giants; we use their credit cards; we shop on Amazon. Not really a prescription for the attainment of critical consciousness.

So while the sagacious Samir Amin predicts a collapse of the neoliberal world order, and I tend to agree, the counterpoint is that the neoliberal world order, "the End of History," will continue to motor along because, since we are all so complicit in its maintenance, there is truly no alternative.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Neoliberal Elite Believe They are Immune to Sixth Mass Exinction Underway

There is a zombie-like quality that distinguishes the U.S. deep state. Two stories over the weekend illustrate this stumbling, brain-dead behemoth. Mujib Mashal's "Back in Afghan Hot Spot, U.S. Marines Chase Diminished Goals" describes preparations by the Marines to re-invade Helmand Province, "The Marines are simply trying to keep Lashkar Gah from falling to the Taliban, and to help the Afghan forces come out of their barracks and put up a fight." Tim Arango's "Iran Dominates in Iraq After U.S. ‘Handed the Country Over’" is a tendentious brief for a re-invasion of Iraq to cleanse the country of Iranian control.

How long can it go on? That's the question. Monthly Review's July-August issue is devoted to the 100-year anniversary of the Russian Revolution. The essays I have read are all quite good. Samir Amin's "Revolution from North to South" is the last one; and in his last paragraph, he has this to say:
In conclusion, I will again point out that the system of neoliberal globalization has entered its last phase; its implosion is clearly visible, as indicated by, among other things, Brexit, Trump's election, and the rise of various forms of neofascism.
From the land of Brexit, William Davies, writing in the London Review of Books, "Reasons for Corbyn," explains why the young have turned their back on neoliberalism. Despite its clearly visible implosion, the elite show no signs of changing course:
Reacting to the breakdown of the vote on 8 June, business leaders and conservative commentators have expressed their disquiet at the fact that young people are so enthusiastic about an apparently retrograde left-wing programme. ‘Memo to anyone under 45,’ Digby Jones, the former director general of the CBI, tweeted: ‘You can’t remember last time socialists got control of the cookie jar: everything nationalised & nothing worked.’ To which the rebuke might be made: and you don’t remember how good things were compared to today. Speak to my undergraduate students (many of them born during Blair’s first term) about the 1970s and early 1980s, and you’ll see the wistful look on their faces as they imagine a society in which artists, writers and recent graduates could live independently in Central London, unharassed by student loan companies, workfare contractors or debt collectors. This may be a partial historical view, but it responds to what younger generations are currently cheated of: the opportunity to grow into adulthood without having their entire future mapped out as a financial strategy. A leader who can build a bridge to that past offers the hope of a different future.
I have come to believe that this elite inability to make a course correction is not based on ignorance. For instance, last week there was a story by Tatiana Schlossberg "Era of ‘Biological Annihilation’ Is Underway, Scientists Warn":
From the common barn swallow to the exotic giraffe, thousands of animal species are in precipitous decline, a sign that an irreversible era of mass extinction is underway, new research finds.
The study, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, calls the current decline in animal populations a “global epidemic” and part of the “ongoing sixth mass extinction” caused in large measure by human destruction of animal habitats. The previous five extinctions were caused by natural phenomena.
Gerardo Ceballos, a researcher at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México in Mexico City, acknowledged that the study is written in unusually alarming tones for an academic research paper. “It wouldn’t be ethical right now not to speak in this strong language to call attention to the severity of the problem,” he said.
The elite know this. My sense is that the inability to make a course correction is intentional. The elite believe they will be able to survive the sixth mass extinction underway. If asked the old question "Socialism or barbarism?" the elite are answering, "Barbarism!" out of a hubris that they can wire the barbaric life much as they have capitalist mass consumer society.

I believe what is happening here is that the elite are consciously if not articulately rejecting mass society in the mistaken belief that they will be able to jet to a sylvan glade somewhere post-apocalypse.

Friday, July 14, 2017

The Moral Bankruptcy of the United States

I called my congresswoman yesterday. She is a freshman. I donated to her campaign and phone-banked for her. I figured that since she started up a non-profit called "Hate Free Zone" in the wake of 9/11 that she, once in office, would be a reliable peace advocate.

To be honest, the only thing I can tell you about her service in Congress so far is that she has been snatched up as eye-candy by House Democratic Leadership. Here she is fronting for neo-McCarthyism:

In any event, yesterday I received this email from Just Foreign Policy:
Last night the House Rules Committee approved two amendments for votes today that fundamentally challenge U.S. participation in the Saudi war in Yemen. 
The Davidson [R-OH] amendment prohibits U.S. military action not authorized by the 2001 AUMF. U.S. participation in the Saudi war in Yemen is not authorized by the 2001 AUMF. That would block the U.S. refueling of Saudi warplanes bombing Yemen. 
The Nolan [D-MN] amendment prohibits the deployment of U.S. troops to participation in Yemen's civil war. That would block the U.S. refueling of Saudi warplanes bombing Yemen. 
This devastating war, which was never authorized by Congress, has been going on for more than two years and has pushed Yemen to the brink of famine, with the worst cholera outbreak in the world, with the UN on the verge of giving up on vaccination against cholera in Yemen because of the war. 
We've never had votes like this before in either chamber. We have no idea how it will go. Every Rep. needs to be called, whether they are Democrat or Republican, pro-Trump or anti-Trump. 
Call your Rep. now at (202) 224-3121. When you reach a staffer or leave a message, you can say something like: 
"I urge you to vote YES on the Davidson and Nolan amendments to prohibit U.S. participation in the unauthorized Saudi war in Yemen."
So I called the local office of my congresswoman (not the D.C. office because I was at work and didn't want the local to absorb the long-distance charge).

A pleasant young woman answered the phone and tried to find the bill number. I hadn't read the Just Foreign Policy email closely enough to tell her H.R. 2810. She assured my she would get the message to the congresswoman.

Two stories yesterday reinforce 1) that the U.S. is directly complicit in war crimes in Yemen, and 2) the cholera epidemic there is at the point of "spiralling out of control."


This morning's Situation Report condenses the story as follows:
US doubles down on support for war in Yemen. Since an October airstrike in Yemen by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition that killed more than 130 people, “the United States doubled the amount of fuel it provided to coalition jets, according to figures obtained from the U.S. military,” writes Samuel Oakford in The Intercept. “The numbers underline the fact that U.S. support for the campaign has continued and even increased despite growing attention to civilian casualties and alleged war crimes by the coalition.”
For the second, see The Guardian's " 'Cholera is everywhere': Yemen epidemic spiralling out of control":
The International Committee of the Red Cross warned on Monday that the cholera epidemic in Yemen was spiralling out of control, reaching a milestone of over 300,000 suspected cases. More than 1,600 people have died. Children account for nearly half of all suspected cholera cases in the country, according to the UN’s children agency.
This is where the lack of an anti-war movement or a strong peace caucus in the Democratic Party becomes glaringly obvious. At a previous time, the U.S. facilitation of a cholera epidemic would be the subject of mass outrage.

The fact that it isn't has many roots: complicity with al-Saud's genocidal war started with the Peace Prize POTUS; there are too many wars for the general public to track; and the New Cold War provides a thick smokescreen for all manner of abhorrent behavior. They all point to a moral bankruptcy.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Democrat Elites Still in Bernie Denial + Kid Rock a U.S. Senator?

What is a "hipster"? A good definition is "a bourgeois bohemian," someone who is safely, superficially, predictably unconventional; someone, like a medieval courtier, who adheres to certain shifting protocols. Hipsters are usually fickle, bitter and filled with fear.

A "faux-hipster" then is someone who affects the coolness of a hipster but with the intention of buttressing the mainstream, the conventional, the "square" world. A faux-hipster is the serpent eating its tail, Ol' Blue Eyes backing Reagan.

MSNBC has built its brand on the faux-hipster, and FiveThirtyEight, Nate Silver's ESPN project, has followed along, leaning on the nerdy, geeky, wonky aspects of the millennial hipster.

Recently a Bernie Sanders presidential run in 2020 has received some attention. Last week Vox's Matt Yglesias argued that "Bernie Sanders is the Democrats’ real 2020 frontrunner." Yesterday Common Dreams published "It's Too Early, Says Bernie Sanders, But 2020 Run 'Not Off The Table' "

And this morning FiveThirtyEight has a delightful chat, "Is Bernie Sanders Really The Democratic Front-Runner?," I think it is a must-read because it shows how lost the Democratic elite are. Nate Silver is attacked by his three colleagues for arguing the obvious -- Bernie is the front-runner. Take a taste:
harry: If you’re going to use Sanders’s prior support, then why is he polling at less than half of what he got in 2016? Doesn’t that suggest that a lot of that support was merely anti-Clinton and not pro-Bernie?
natesilver: Because they’re polling a ballot with 14 candidates, whereas it was a two-horse race in 2016. I dare you to look up Sanders’s favorability ratings with Democrats, Harry!
harry: I dare you to look up Trump’s favorability ratings with Republicans even after he entered.
clare.malone: Cool impasse.
natesilver: I’m not sure why you’re being such a hipster about this, Harry. Sanders is really well liked among Democrats. He was second last time. He’s leading in the polls now. Isn’t it obvious that he’s the front-runner?
If you read through the round table a couple of things rise to the top. Democratic elite opinion, here represented by FiveThirtyEight writers Harry Enten, Clare Malone and Perry Bacon Jr., is waiting, pining, begging for Elizabeth Warren to get into the presidential race. (Warren is better than Hillary, but I think the outcome would be the same because she can't juice turnout of the "Obama coalition" -- minorities and young people.) Bernie's candidacy is once again being written off because he allegedly doesn't have the support of black voters. So we can expect more and possibly worse race-baiting in 2020. It's going to be the Super Tuesday firewall all over again. Divide and conquer. And if Bernie is blocked, another Trumpocalypse.

For a real hipster take on potential candidacies there is yesterday's Slog from Charles Mudede, "Hick Hopper Kid Rock Running for Senate," about Kid Rock challenging Debbie Stabenow in Michigan:
This afternoon, "rapper," scratcher, and country singer Kid Rock tweeted that recently launched website Kid Rock For Senate is the real deal. In 2018, he will run against the Democrat Debbie Stabenow, Michigan's senior US Senator. In 2012, Kid Rock supported Mitt Romney, and his song "Born Free" was Romney's campaign theme. In 2016, Rock supported Donald Trump's successful run. In 2017, he visited the White House with Sarah Palin and Ted Nugent, and famously mocked Hillary Clinton's official portrait. 
The album that made Kid Rock Kid Rock (his real name is Robert Ritchie) is Devil Without a Cause. It was released in 1998, sold a gazillion copies, and introduced the world to "hick hop." Rock is not much of a rapper, indeed he's what we once called wack; but he can work the wheels of steel like an old school DJ. In this video, you can see him light up and smoke a cigar, and pour whisky in to a glass while cutting records down to the bone.
Rock also appeared on a sex tape with Creed's Scott Stapp. In this video, which was filmed in 1999 and entered the eternity of the internet in 2006, his cock is sucked by more than one woman. Recently, Rock's glass dildo was "subpoenaed in Insane Clown Posse lawsuit."
All of that said, Rock has not yet filed for the senate race. But if he does, if he actually runs, Stranger news editor Steven Hsieh thinks he will win. 
Now that's some fine hipster writing.

Trumpcare Headed for Defeat

My guess is that McConnell's reveal today of Trumpcare 2.0 will be as stillborn as the first iteration. There are already two solid Republican nays, Maine's Susan Collins and McConnell's Kentucky colleague Rand Paul, which means Trumpcare is dancing on the edge already.

What's interesting about this new version is that it shows Republicans are more interested in butchering the poor than lining their own pockets. McConnell's new version keeps Obamacare's payroll tax on high earners, as well as its tax on investment income, but pares back Medicaid. According to Thomas Kaplan and Robert Pear in yesterday's "G.O.P. Senators Vow to Unveil Health Bill Thursday, Despite Deep Divisions":
Senate Republicans are also likely to keep a pair of taxes imposed by the Affordable Care Act on people with high incomes. The law increased the payroll tax rate for many high-income taxpayers and imposed a tax on their investment income. Both taxes would be eliminated by the repeal bill passed by the House in May and by the original version of Mr. McConnell’s bill.
Keeping those taxes would undercut a major argument against the bill by Democrats, who have branded it as a tax cut for the rich disguised as a health bill.
But the largest changes to the health care system are likely to remain in the bill. About two-thirds of the increase in the projected number of uninsured Americans would result from deep cuts in expected Medicaid spending, the budget office said. The bill would impose caps on Medicaid spending and would roll back the expansion of the program under the Affordable Care Act.
The GOP plans to reveal its bill today, have 20 hours of debate and then vote next week. During the holiday recess numerous Republican senators publicly proclaimed their opposition to Trumpcare; those from rural states realized that a large portion of their medical system would basically grind to a halt with the proposed Medicaid cuts and restrictions.

What's tantalizing about the coming collapse of Trumpcare is that it creates a logjam for Republican tax overhaul, not to mention other dastardly legislative priorities.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Antarctica and the Anthropocene

Bill McKibben tweeted this morning that 
An iceberg with twice the volume of Lake Erie has broken off the Larsen Ice Shelf, 'leaving the continent forever changed'
The other night I watched a Luc Jacquet documentary Antarctica: Ice and Sky. What's makes this documentary, which covers the career of renowned French glaciologist Claude Lorius, worth watching is that by the time it is finished you will never harbor any doubts about the reality of climate change.

Lorius pioneered the method of accurately measuring prehistoric temperatures by deep drilling ice cores. He was able to confirm that the Earth undergoes periodic climate change (ice ages), but what the planet has been experiencing the last 100 years is like nothing else in Lorius' vast trove of ice cores. Man has changed and is changing -- radically -- the Earth's natural systems (what's known as the "Anthropocene"). 

What adds to the impact of Lorius' message is the scope of the science involved. Spanning decades, marshaling the logistical support of several nations (the footage of the Soviet Antarctic camp is awesome), this is not some fringe pursuit the validity of which can be disputed. This is the best that governments have to offer. There should be a Nuremberg trial for political appointees like Scott Pruitt, Trump's EPA chief, who recently announced to a bunch of coal company lobbyists that he will be fielding a team of climate-change deniers to "test" the academic consensus.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The Chessboard Shifts to Kurdistan

Now that Mosul has been declared liberated, marking the end of the caliphate in Iraq, the refrain in the prestige press seems to be "Not so fast."

This stands to reason. ISIS was always in line with U.S. policy goals in Iraq and Syria (the acronym remember stands for Islamic State of Iraq and Syria).

Even prior to the amazing spontaneous emergence of the caliphate in Mosul pressure was being put on then Iraqi premier Nouri al-Maliki to grant some form of autonomy to the Sunni heartland. The United States wanted to see a Sunnistan with its own military.

Former Obama foreign policy elite Tony Blinken was back at it the other day in "The Islamic State Is Not Dead Yet":
Even more challenging is what comes next. Twenty-five million Sunni Muslims live between Baghdad and Damascus. They have been alienated from their governments.
Unless they can be convinced that their state will protect and not persecute them, an Islamic State 2.0 will find plenty of new recruits and supporters.
Iraq offers the best prospects for success. But left to their own devices, its leaders are more likely to perpetuate the conditions that gave rise to violent extremism. And Iraq’s neighbors will line up behind whichever sect they support, reinforcing a zero-sum mentality in Iraq itself.
That’s where American diplomacy comes in.
The United States can’t dictate outcomes to a sovereign Iraq. But it can support, incentivize and mobilize those willing to move Iraq in the right direction.
This starts with backing what Iraq’s prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, calls functioning federalism — giving Iraqis at the provincial level the responsibility and resources to provide for their own security, services and schools and to govern their day-to-day lives.
That’s the best way to convince Sunnis that their future is within Iraq and not with a new Islamic State. Iraq’s Sunnis used to oppose federalism in favor of a strong central government; increasingly, they embrace it.
Iraq’s constitution provides for decentralization, but it has yet to be put into effect. Some within the Shia community, goaded on by Iran, will insist on retaining the spoils of majoritarian rule, preserving a dominant Baghdad to lord it over the Sunnis.
Bringing functioning federalism to life begins with effectively implementing a law that governs Iraq’s militia, known as the Popular Mobilization Forces. Shiite P.M.F. units must be placed under state control, kept out of politics and away from Sunni areas.
Sunni P.M.F. units mobilized into the fight against the Islamic State need to stay on the state payroll and assume responsibility for securing their own territory. Baghdad also must make sure that investment and major infrastructure projects don’t bypass Sunni regions.
So the song from before the caliphate remains the same after the caliphate. Doesn't that smell fishy to you?

Tim Arango adds some much needed detail in "Iraq Celebrates Victory Over ISIS in Mosul, but Risks Remain." He quotes Maliki who predicts more turbulence ahead:
“Syria and Iraq are closely connected,” Mr. Maliki said in an interview this year. “If the situation in Syria is unstable, Iraq will be unstable.”
When asked about the future of Iraq after the Islamic State, Mr. Maliki said: “The state cannot control the situation. The coming phase will be bad.”
The coming bad phase, absent more jihadist-U.S. false flags, will be initiated by the Kurdish independence referendum scheduled for September. When the vote comes in as an overwhelming Yes, Iraq will be forced to negotiate. Part of the negotiations will include Sunnistan because if the Kurds get their own state, even if only as a federal administrative unit of the nation of Iraq, the Sunnis will want a similar deal.

The wild card here is Turkey. How will Turkey respond?

Monday, July 10, 2017

U.S. Complicit in Ongoing Genocides in Yemen and South Sudan but Democrats Can't Stop Talking About Russians

How much longer are the Democrats and their allies in the media going to bang on Joe McCarthy's drum? As long as it takes it looks like. After Trump's no drama G20, The New York Times served up it's latest McGuffin, "Trump’s Son Met With Russian Lawyer After Being Promised Damaging Information on Clinton." This has been going on since before the inauguration. When it looks as if Trump is settling in as POTUS, the public is treated to another top-of-the-fold zinger about Russian interference in the 2016 election.

In the meantime, the United States is complicit in two genocides, one in Yemen where the Saudi-led U.S.-backed forces are at war against the Houthis and have systemically bombed critical infrastructure, including bridges and medical facilities, and the other in South Sudan where president Salva Kiir's Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) is terrorizing -- burning villages, murdering, raping -- the population in the Equatorials, the southern region of the country, with the design of forcing people across the border into neighboring Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The New York Times published a rare article about Yemen on Saturday, "Cholera Spreads as War and Poverty Batter Yemen." The "newspaper of record" reports on the war in Yemen about once a month. Once the body count skyrockets into the millions, the paper can allege that it was doing its job all the time.

NYT stories on the civil war in South Sudan are even more infrequent. To get the lowdown you have to turn to publications like Harper's, which recently published Nick Turse's "Ghost Nation." Turse makes it clear that South Sudan is a U.S. project. The Obama administration failed to impose a unilateral arms embargo against Kiir's government when fighting broke out. The Trump administration gingerly acknowledges the ongoing genocide but refuses to take any steps to resolve the crisis.

Friday, July 7, 2017

The Problem Now is the Democratic Party: Another World War Looms

What's the big picture? The U.S.-led neoliberal world order is long past its "sell-by" date. To maintain its pole position the United States relies on the hegemony of the dollar, a global media monopoly, and, increasingly, outright war.

If it were only a crisis in the dominant social paradigm, that would be one thing, but the crisis in Pax Americana is situated within a planetary crisis of the natural order brought about by human-induced climate change. Earth is experiencing a sixth mass extinction. Oceans are acidifying because of all the carbon they absorb. The huge ice sheets of West Antarctica are melting. Fifty years from now things should look very different (more different than the difference between now and the "Summer of Love").

China is the hegemon-in-waiting. It will soon replace the U.S. as the world's largest economy. At least nominally the leadership of the Communist Party appears more mindful of the need for collective action with regards to climate change than the U.S. Plus, the Chinese still believe in building things and putting people to work (see "One Belt, One Road"). The U.S. believes in building weapons and fighting an ever greater number of wars.

Russia is just trying to survive.

Which brings us to Europe and the Group of 20 Summit that begins today in Hamburg, Germany. Germany and France, so long tucked under the wing of the American eagle, are now fence sitters. They don't want to commit to a new world order just yet. If they did, one oriented away from the occident and towards Asia, it would happen. But I think Paris and Berlin are waiting for the Second Coming of Obama.

That's going to be a tall order. By the fall of last year, Obama had revealed himself a false prophet. In the end his diminished status was insufficient to trundle Hillary's cadaver across the finish line, leaving us with the "Tweeter-in-Chief." Obama's great achievements were his election campaigns. He proved, running as a progressive, that there is a clear progressive majority in the United States.

The problem now is the Democratic Party. Their voters want more progress than is on offer. Until the Dems can find another pitch man as skilled as Obama, or the party is purged of its Wall Street/Hollywood/Silicon Valley plutocrats in a Momentum-like uprising, the world is left with Trump. And, as Bill Van Auken writes today in "Bitter conflicts dominate G20 summit in Germany," this portends another world war:
Trump comes to Hamburg as the personification of the backwardness, criminality and parasitism of America’s ruling financial oligarchy. His aim is to use the threat of war, from a potentially world catastrophic attack on North Korea to an equally dangerous confrontation with Iran and Russia in Syria, to bludgeon US imperialism’s rivals into submission to his administration’s economic nationalist, “America First” agenda.
Trump, however, is by no means alone in pursuing an aggressive imperialist agenda. German Chancellor Angela Merkel held her own meeting in the run-up to the G20 summit with China’s President Xi Jinping, both invoking free trade and climate change, condemning protectionism and implicitly opposing the policies of the Trump administration. Merkel embraced Beijing’s “One Belt, One Road” project of developing infrastructure for transport and energy networks linking China to Central Asia, Russia, all of Europe and the energy resources of the Middle East, an initiative viewed by Washington as an existential threat.
Xi’s government, confronting growing military pressure from Washington both on the Korean peninsula and in the South China Sea, is seeking to forge closer bonds with a rising and increasingly independent—both politically and militarily—German imperialism.
To the same end, he preceded his trip to Germany with a two-day visit to Moscow, where he and Putin defied Washington’s demands that China starve North Korea into submission after Pyongyang’s test firing of an ICBM. Instead, they issued their own demands for the US to remove its antiballistic missiles from South Korea and halt its provocative military exercises on the peninsula.
Meanwhile, on the very eve of the summit, the European Union and Japan announced the conclusion of a free trade pact that would encompass a third of the world’s GDP. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared that the agreement demonstrated “our strong political will to fly the flag for free trade against a shift toward protectionism.”
“Although some are saying that the time of isolationism and disintegration is coming again, we are demonstrating that this is not the case,” European Council President Tusk added.
The agreement has been struck at the expense of US-based transnationals and both statements were clearly directed against Trump, who on the eve of the summit wrote on Twitter: “The US made some of the worst trade deals in world history. Why should we continue these deals with countries that do not help us.”
With the continuously escalating conflicts between the economic powers that constitute the core of the world economy, the increasingly open and acrimonious divisions within the NATO alliance itself, and the forging of multiple pacts directed at furthering the interests of one or another power against its rivals, the situation resembles more and more that described by Lenin during World War I in which the imperialist powers were “enmeshed in a net of secret treaties with each other, with their allies, and against their allies.”
The rising threat of war and the breakdown of international institutions that were created in the aftermath of the United States’ emergence from World War II as the dominant imperialist power are the end product of processes that have matured over the quarter century since the Stalinist bureaucracy’s dissolution of the Soviet Union.
The emergence of what US strategists described as a “unipolar moment” set the stage for a series of imperialist wars and interventions in which US imperialism sought to exploit its military advantage to counterbalance its declining position in the world economy.
While these wars shattered Iraq, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Ukraine and other countries, claimed millions of lives and unleashed the greatest refugee crisis since World War II, they utterly failed to alter the fortunes of US imperialism.
Now, a new stage of the crisis has been reached in which Washington’s global rivals are challenging US imperialism’s global hegemony. 

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Tories and Saudis in Trouble

Tory prime minister Theresa May is in trouble, and it is has nothing to do with Brexit negotiations or Grenfell Tower; it has to do with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. May is sitting on a report that purportedly links the Saudis to the funding of jihadist terrorism. Now, as David Kirkpatrick reports, a London think tank, named after Washington State's historic "senator from Boeing," has published a report of its own accusing the House of Saud of not only funding jihadists but actually training the preachers who preach violence in Britain:
The government of Prime Minister Theresa May has acknowledged in recent days that it is withholding a study on the Saudi role in fostering extremism in Britain, and opponents have accused her of pandering to the Saudi royals to protect British trade deals.
On Wednesday, a report from a hawkish think tank in London called new attention to the debate by arguing that Saudi Arabia had, in fact, played a singularly important role in promoting extremist strains of Islam in British mosques and religious schools — including the training of British preachers who have advocated jihadist violence.
Over the last 30 years, “Saudi Arabia has spent at least £67 billion,” or about $87 billion, on this endeavor around the world, said the think tank, the Henry Jackson Society, named for a United States senator from the Cold War era.
The attention to Saudi Arabia also comes at a time when Ms. May’s political opponents are ratcheting up their denunciations of her Conservative government’s support for the two-year Saudi-led war in Yemen, which has plunged that impoverished country into a humanitarian catastrophe of disease and famine with no end in sight. (Saudi Arabia says the campaign there is essential to keep power away from the Houthis, a Yemeni faction aligned with Iran.)
The study of Saudi extremism was initiated more than a year ago by Ms. May’s predecessor, Prime Minister David Cameron, also a Conservative. He agreed to it partly to win the support of another party, the Liberal Democrats, for airstrikes against the Islamic State in Syria, and on Wednesday the Liberal Democrats accused Ms. May of putting Saudi business deals ahead of public safety by declining to disclose the study’s findings.
“We hear regularly about the Saudi arms deals or ministers going to Riyadh to kowtow before their royal family, but yet our government won’t release a report that will clearly criticize Saudi Arabia,” Timothy Farron, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, said in a statement.
Britain is “cozying up to one of the most extreme, nasty and oppressive regimes in the world,” he said. “You would think our security would be more important, but it appears not.”
The Home Office, which conducted the study, denied that the government had withheld it to avoid offending or embarrassing the Saudis. But a spokesman declined to comment on whether the findings of the study had highlighted a Saudi role in spreading extremism. “Ministers are considering advice on what is able to be published in the report and will update Parliament in due course,” the office said in a statement.
The Saudi Embassy in London did not respond to telephone calls.
Something Western voters understand and understand viscerally is that the Saudis have rigged the system. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is an absolutist monarchy that exports a puritanical interpretation of Islam by means of a global network of madrassas, yet it depends upon the "great" democracies Britain, France and the United States, for its defense.

An example of al-Saud's reach was on display yesterday when new French president Emmanuel Macron had to walk back an earlier proclamation that there was no legitimate successor to Assad. According to Reuters, "After criticism, France's Macron seeks to reassure Syria opposition":
Macron on Wednesday appeared to try to refine his comments after speaking to Riad Hijab, head of the Riyadh-based High Negotiations Committee, which represents a group of military and political opponents at U.N.-mediated talks between Syria's warring parties in Geneva.

In a statement the presidency said Macron had confirmed to Hijab that France supported the HNC in the Syrian peace talks being held under UN auspices.
The High Negotiations Committee is a Saudi creation.

May's Tories are not the only ones in trouble. It is a perilous time for the Saudi royal family. Their blockade of Qatar is close to collapse; so too is Yemen. Palace intrigue, already intense with reports of the deposed Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef under house arrest, is likely spiraling out of control.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The U.S. Scraps "Strategic Patience" with North Korea in Favor of a "Provocation Cycle"

As good a place to start as any this morning is The New York Times unsigned editorial "The Way Forward on North Korea," which calls for direct talks with North Korea over its nuclear and ballistic missile program: 
Mr. Trump may also be learning another lesson, that he can’t rely on China alone to force North Korea to rein in its nuclear program. What he hasn’t grasped is that a solution will eventually require direct dialogue with the North.
While it refreshing to read that "the newspaper of record" has embraced the obvious, the editorial, in its recapitulation of recent events, tiptoes around something else that is obvious. Trump precipitated North Korea's successful launch of an ICBM Tuesday:
After Mr. Trump acknowledged in a recent tweet that depending on China “has not worked out,” his administration took steps that reflected his annoyance. It approved a $1.4 billion arms sale to Taiwan, which China considers a renegade province; it imposed sanctions on a Chinese bank accused of acting as a conduit of illegal North Korean financial activity; and an American naval destroyer passed near disputed territory claimed by China in the South China Sea. There is now talk of Washington moving on steel tariffs, which would be aimed partly at China.
Nudging China to ratchet up the pressure on North Korea is not a bad thing. But an outright break between the United States and China would very likely embolden North Korea. In a sign that neither leader wants to escalate tensions, Mr. Trump called Mr. Xi on Sunday to discuss North Korea, and Mr. Xi accepted the call. Mr. Trump warned Mr. Xi that America was prepared to act on its own in pressuring Pyongyang.
The Times should call a spade a spade. Trump has scrapped Obama's "strategic patience" in favor of what is known as a "provocation cycle" where the U.S. makes a move, such as sanctioning a Chinese bank used by North Korea, hoping to elicit a response; and when the North responds, the U.S. is ready with a follow-up.

That's where we are today. The U.S. and South Korea launched their own missile exercise on South Korea's eastern coastline.

A good long story, "How to Deal With North Korea," by Mark Bowden, in the July-August issue of The Atlantic, replete with quotes from military brass and think-tank intellectuals, comes to a slightly different conclusion than The Times' editorial board.

Writing clearly from a bellicose deep-state perspective -- for instance, there is not one word about the cataclysmic saturation bombing North Korea sustained from the U.S. during the Korean War -- Bowden thinks the U.S. should tacitly acknowledge the North's nuclear power status, not give up too much in talks, and hope that time runs out on the Kim dynasty.

Bowden breaks down deep-state thinking in regards to North Korea into four courses of action: 1) Total preventative war; 2) "Turning the screws," in other words, a "provocation cycle," where we appear to be today; 3) Decapitation: a surgical strike to take out Kim and his leadership; and 4) Acceptance.

Bowden dismisses a "provocation cycle" as too risky because it can rapidly spin out of control.

Trump will meet with Putin and Xi at the G-20. Russia and China are seeking to freeze the North's nuclear and ballistic program on the basis of U.S. and South Korea suspending their war games. Seems reasonable to me. Hopefully Trump will see it the same way.

One thing I think is obvious to everyone: after Yugoslavia, after Iraq, after Libya, and with Iran's continued harassment despite coming to terms with the West over its nuclear program, no rational actor would believe that renouncing one's nuclear program guarantees acceptance, peace and prosperity.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Hippies vs. Punks: Hugh Masekela's The Promise of a Future (1968)

To review: It was four or five years ago I saw some video of the Old Grey Whistle Test television program. The show ran from the early 1970s until the late 1980s.

The transition from the bands of the Hippie era to the arrival of the Punks was jarring. The music went from being good to sounding horrible. The situation did not improve with the advent of Post-Punk and New Wave.

Around the same time that I watched the old Whistle Test episodes, I saw the Martin Scorsese documentary on George Harrison. I was struck by the large crowds for the disastrous Dark Horse tour November-December 1974. An army of Krishna Consciousness fans cheering for a boozed and coked-up Harrison.

The question that I was confronted with is -- How do we go from Krishna Consciousness to The Damned and Sex Pistols in a few short years? How does that happen?

I don't think it is merely a coincidence (or, as an old girlfriend gratingly used to say, "a co-inky-dink") that the same time period -- the middle-to-late 1970s -- is synonymous with rise of neoliberalism. Union density has peaked; financialization of Wall Street has begun; Thatcher, Reagan and TINA ("There Is No Alternative" to capitalism) are about to launch the inequality rocketship.

Originally, I had intended for these posts to stay focused on just the transitional years, 1974-1979. Then I realized that it was necessary, in order to understand who the Hippie was, to go back to the 1960s.

To provide an exploratory framework I decided at first to focus on some key festivals. For the Hippie era, the two that I spent the most time on and am still working through are 1) San Jose's Aquarian Family Festival of May 1969, and 2) Cincinnati Summer Pop Festival of June 1970. I concentrated on bands from the undercard like The Chocolate Watchband, Joy of Cooking, Damnation of Adam's Blessing, Bloodrock, et al. I did the same thing for the Punks, examining the 100 Club Punk Festival of September 1976 and the night Punk died, the January 14, 1978 Sex Pistols show at Bill Graham's Winterland.

The mother and father of all multi-day rock'n'roll festivals during the Age of Aquarius are Monterey Pop and Woodstock. Separated by two years, two months and the expanse of the continental United States, these concerts are weightier than all others because of the feature films associated with them: D.A. Pennebaker's Monterey Pop (1968)  and Michael Wadleigh's Woodstock (1970).

The movies were released only one-year-and-three-months apart; most of the artists who performed at Monterey Pop perform at Woodstock.

It's been a while since I've seen either, but if you were to view them one after the other I think you would agree that the norm had become distinctly freakier by August 1969.

Which brings up an interesting issue about the incubation period of social movements. The summer of 1967 is known as the "Summer of Love." (Otis Redding asked from the stage at Monterey Pop, "This is the Love Crowd, right?") But Monterey Pop didn't make its big splash on movie screens nationwide until after Christmas 1968, by which time, for instance, Janis Joplin, one of the big stars of the film, had already dumped her band, Big Brother and the Holding Company, and the country had somersaulted from Eros to Thanatos with the assassinations of MLK and RFK and the police riot at the Chicago Democratic National Convention.

But thanks to the relative slowness of  media in the 1960s (communication was much more localized than it is today), the massification of bohemia was able to cohere in wave after wave, year upon year, building an organic mass base that necessitated an equally massive counterrevolution.

It is the rancid carapace of that counterrevolution that rules the globe today. It should have been cracked and discarded decades ago, really at the end of the 1980s (that's what Grunge was about), and certainly by Y2K. By the time we get to Obama 2008, that was the popular electoral mandate for scrapping the counterrevolutionary neoliberal paradigm.

You'll notice though that at each turn of wheel the counterrevolutionaries have manged to maintain control. They have done so by resorting to increasingly intense system shocks, principally war (it's no coincidence that there are more displaced people than at any time since World War Two), and invasive information technology.

What I'm saying is that the Hippies couldn't happen today because technology wouldn't allow it. Technology is too instantaneous and people are too plugged in for any social movement not to be immediately co-opted.

Richard Hell said something to the effect that "Blank Generation," his Punk manifesto, was written about the collapse of the 1960s and the Vietnam War simultaneous with the explosion in media, leaving him feeling overwhelmed, numbed, blunted.

It has become much, much worse. Worse than we imagined possible. I'd say it's worse than Orwell or Huxley. I think Cormac McCarthy gets the vibe right, but our actual dystopia is noisier, a screeching tiny ever-present squall.

This month is the fiftieth anniversary of the Monterey Pop Festival. (For a good, brief Monterey Pop retrospective, as framed by the experience of Sacramento-native and future power hitter for the Los Angeles Dodgers 18-year-old Dusty Baker, read Kevin Greene's "The Greatest Music Festival in History." It captures the wide-open Hippie Weltanschauung.)

Whenever I see the Pennebaker film I'm always struck by the appearance of South Arican trumpeter Hugh Masekela and his band (see second YouTube video above). That appearance seems so ahead of its time -- 15 years before WOMAD, and 25 years before Wo' Pop is broadly accepted in the United States.

So this past weekend I decided to get a copy of The Promise of a Future (1968). Masekela performed songs from the album at Monterey Pop, including his Billboard 100 #1 "Grazing in the Grass" (see YouTube at top of the post)

Ask yourself, "When was the last time an instrumental was #1?" It is a good question -- "Harlem Shake" in 2013, a testament to the power of the internet and YouTube. Before that you would have to travel all the way back to the mid-'80s and Jan Hammer's "Miami Vice Theme."

The 1970s were the golden age of the instrumental #1, thanks to the popularity of Disco (makes me think more kindly of the genre). Then, before Edgar Winter Group's "Frankenstein" and Henry Mancini's "Love Theme to Romeo and Juliet" (which is basically Muzak), comes Masekela's "Grazing in the Grass" for two weeks in the summer of '68.

"Grazing in the Grass" reminds me of a Ramsey Lewis tune. My favorite from The Promise of a Future is the lead track, a two-minute rendition of the Ashford & Simpson classic, "Ain't No Mountain High Enough."

The last three songs on the album are all Masekela originals. "Vuca" follows "Grazing in the Grass":

Listening to The Promise of a Future it is impossible not to feel wistful about the loss of the dreams of 1960s. The culture was much stronger. Egalitarian collective action seemed possible.

What happens to all the futures that never arrive?

Thursday, June 29, 2017

MBS vs. MBN: Big Trouble Brewing in KSA-USA Deep State

It is important to remember that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is inseparable from the United States. The succession crisis currently underway in the House of Saud will have direct impacts on the U.S. national security state.

Ben Hubbard, Eric Schmitt and Mark Mazzetti report in "Deposed Saudi Prince Is Said to Be Confined to Palace":
BEIRUT, Lebanon — The recently deposed crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Nayef, has been barred from leaving the kingdom and confined to his palace in the coastal city of Jidda, according to four current and former American officials and Saudis close to the royal family.
The new restrictions on the man who until last week was next in line to the throne and ran the kingdom’s powerful internal security services sought to limit any potential opposition for the new crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, 31, the officials said, speaking on the condition of anonymity so as not to jeopardize relationships with Saudi royals.
It was unclear how long the restrictions would remain in place. An adviser to the Saudi royal court referred queries to the Information Ministry, whose officials could not immediately be reached for comment on Wednesday. A senior official in the Saudi Foreign Ministry reached by telephone on Wednesday night described the account as “baseless and false.”
The Saudi monarch, King Salman, shook up the line of succession last week with a string of royal decrees that promoted his favorite son, Mohammed bin Salman, to crown prince and removed Mohammed bin Nayef, 57, from the line of succession.
But the restrictions placed on the elder prince suggest fear that some members of the sprawling royal family are upset with the change, and that public appearances by him could exacerbate such sentiments.
“It’s an indication that M.B.S. does not want any opposition,” a senior United States official said. “He doesn’t want any rear-guard action within the family. He wants a straight elevation without any dissent — not that M.B.N. was plotting anything anyway.”
The official said the United States government was in contact with the Saudi Interior Ministry, but that American officials had not had any formal contact with Mohammed bin Nayef and were monitoring the situation closely.
“M.B.N. has been such a great friend and partner of the U.S., we would not want to see him treated inelegantly or indecorously,” the senior American official said.
Since Mohammed bin Nayef’s removal from the line of succession, several veteran American counterterrorism and intelligence officials who had strong relationships with him have privately expressed outrage at his treatment. But they were wary of speaking publicly given the strong support for King Salman and his son from President Trump and other top aides, including Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law.
MBS's palace coup, backed by Trump and his son-in-law, has to be seen in terms of the blockade of Qatar. The demands leveled by the Saudi-led bloc expire Monday. According to Peter Symonds in "Gulf confrontation worsens as deadline looms for Saudi ultimatum to Qatar":
The public divisions in Washington over the US stance toward the Gulf dispute highlight the reckless, incoherent and crisis-ridden character of American foreign policy in the Middle East and internationally. A quarter century of US-led wars in the region has left millions dead, destroyed entire societies and profoundly destabilised the nation-state system imposed by French and British imperialism after World War I.
The standoff between the Saudi-led bloc with Qatar adds another potentially explosive trigger to the existing powder kegs, particularly in Syria and Yemen, that could set off a region-wide and international conflict involving all the major powers.
Huge cataclysmic change ushering in collapse of the hegemon always seems impossible until it happens. Then it appears inevitable.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Gallup Puts Some Numbers to the Precariat in the U.S.

UPDATE: Today is #SeaHomeless day in Seattle, a day local media will focus on the issue of homelessness. Seattle is booming. Commercial and residential construction is visible throughout the city. Each morning on my two-mile walk into work I pass several different construction crews. Even before I leave my studio apartment I can look out my window and see the debris of  a demolished single-family home, knocked down to put up four new units,according to a mailing I received from the city planning department. (A new apartment building is going up where a parking lot currently is for the apartment building next door.)

A block from my residence is the first major construction site, a new multistory apartment building that is being erected on the footprint of recently demolished early 1960s motel-style housing that the guy who works at the Thai restaurant across the street said was probably built to house visitors to the 1962 World's Fair. This morning there were a least two flaggers and half-a-dozen carpenters visible on the street.

Next up, down the western flank of Capitol Hill and over the I-5 viaduct, is the Denny Substation Project, a massive utility upgrade, which is no doubt made necessary by the megalopolis Amazon is constructing north of Westlake Center, the next major construction site on my bipedal commute. As I believe I've mentioned before, this is the largest amount of new commercial construction that I have seen at one time in one area. It stretches for blocks.

Finally, before I arrive at the labor temple, there is extensive road work on both 3rd Avenue and 2nd Avenue, part of the nearly $1 billion city transportation levy passed in 2015. Heavy Caterpillar, Komatsu and John Deere machinery; concrete saws, mounds of asphalt, rock and the large hods to move it.

Then right as I enter my building I have to wind my way through a different construction crew that is putting on a new roof for the office building next door.

All of this by way of saying this is as good as it gets in terms of neoliberal capitalism right now in the United States. Yet homelessness is everywhere. Walking out of my neighborhood supermarket Monday evening I passed a guy sleeping right on the busy Broadway sidewalk, a not unusual sight (sort of a "Calcutta on the Sound" gestalt). The subliminal message to all us working stiffs was plain as day. Lose your job, and you could be next. This is life in the land of the precarious, home of the feckless.

Crosscut has done several good stories on homelessness; one, by Joe Copeland, talks about how Vienna has effectively addressed it:
Vienna certainly has advantages: The federal government covers more than half of the roughly $700 million a year spent there on “social housing,” the subsidized units that house about 60 percent of the city’s population. These dwellings have some sort of subsidy for construction or operation, a concept that’s very different from the public housing practices in this country that give a small percentage of people a break but come nowhere near making rents broadly affordable.
The city also owns a lot of land where it can develop the housing complexes (at least one Viennese architect advises never selling public land). And it uses its advantages smartly: Menking says that the practice of awarding housing projects to nonprofits encourages collaborations with architects, and quality counts in making awards. The result: housing that incorporates — and creates — the best of urban life.
As Sharon Lee of Seattle’s Low Income Housing Institute notes, about 100,000 households here are paying more than 30 percent of their income for housing, many of them forking out more than 50 percent. Seattle could benefit from 60,000 more affordable units, she says — not the 50,000 total new units, most at market rate, that the mayor hopes to see built.
Vienna’s tradition is vastly different than ours; it’s supported by people who are willing to pay taxes for housing, health care and transit. There’s no prospect at the moment that national politics in the United States will lead to the kind of federal support that would make a huge difference in housing affordability.
But Seattle’s voters have acted almost European in approving taxes for transit and housing. Although the city turns the Vienna model of mixing incomes upside down by allowing developers to fund affordable housing elsewhere rather than including it in their own buildings, it does have some experience in making use of the nonprofit sector along Austrian lines.
LIHI’s Lee points out that, beyond Seattle’s longstanding housing levy, there’s a new factor. Councilmembers Kshama Sawant and Lisa Herbold managed to insert $29 million in housing bonds into the city budget for this year. Lee thinks the idea could tap into the kind of spirit that energized Seattle’s campaign for a $15 per hour minimum wage.
Jonathan Rosenblum, the author of a book about that campaign called “Beyond $15,” has been writing about the need for “a massive public housing program” in Seattle. His idea for financing it would be a local version of an income tax. That likely raises issues with the state constitution, which courts have interpreted as barring any income tax unless it were a flat rate. But where there’s a will, there may be a way to tackle at least part of the need.
It’s not something that will happen overnight. But perhaps we can take some small consolation — confidence — in knowing that Vienna’s emphasis on affordable residences dates from a housing crisis a century ago. 

I find myself reading RT more these days. This story, "Liberty lost? Americans increasingly unhappy with levels of freedom, survey says," caught my eye this morning. Gallup has found that U.S. citizens are feeling more oppressed:
America is often referred to as the "Land of the Free," but as citizens prepare to celebrate the Fourth of July, their satisfaction with the country's freedom is significantly lower than it was a decade ago, according to a newly released Gallup poll.
The survey found that although 91 percent of Americans were satisfied with the freedom in their lives in 2006, only 75 percent feel the same way today.
Furthermore, while the US ranked 11th worldwide (out of 118 countries) in the 2006 Gallup poll, it came in 71st (among 139 countries) in the current poll.
"This puts the US in the bottom half of all countries measured," Gallup managing partner Jon Clifton wrote on the organization’s blog.
The US decline is unique, as such results are not happening in other wealthy democracies.
For example, Denmark, Finland, and Canada were all tied for first place in 2006, with 96 percent of their populations satisfied with their freedom. Those figures are "virtually unchanged" in the recent poll, with all three remaining in the top 11.
[The results are likely worse than stated since "freedom" is a dog whistle in the United States, a subliminal key that triggers the average conservative respondent to assert her/his superiority.] 
As for the financial situations of Americans, Clifton noted that "despite widespread reports that the US economy is improving, many Americans may not be feeling the same economic gains in their daily lives."
He noted that although household income is up since 2011, it's flat since 2007. He went on to state that workforce participation is the lowest it's been in 40 years, despite unemployment dropping below 5 percent. 
The precariat is real. My guess is that it has to do with ever-rising prices of the essentials -- housing, health care, food, education -- combined with the ever-dimming prospects of securing remunerative employment. That is the base. The superstructure is the disappearance of belief in progress. This is huge for Americans because the national mythology is predicated on progress. Better stuff to buy. Bigger house. Come to the U.S. and live your dream. It doesn't work anymore. That's why Trump was elected. People are pissed and they want to blow shit up. And Trump is delivering.