Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Graham-Cassidy: One More Attempt to Gut Medicaid

The reanimation of Trumpcare in the form of the Graham-Cassidy bill is one last attempt to gut Medicaid before the rule allowing heath-care legislation to pass by simple majority expires at the end of next week. Graham-Cassidy would take the Obamacare money and block grant it back to the states; it would also block grant Medicaid, at the same time it ends the Obamacare expansion of the program. According to Robert Pear and Thomas Kaplan in "Republican Leaders Defy Bipartisan Opposition to Health Law Repeal":
Besides creating block grants, the Graham-Cassidy bill would make deep cuts in Medicaid. It would end the expansion of eligibility under the Affordable Care Act, which has provided Medicaid coverage to 13 million people. And it would put the entire program, which serves more than 70 million people, on a budget, ending the open-ended entitlement that exists. States would instead receive a per-beneficiary allotment of federal money.
[snip] 
Republicans were trying desperately to round up votes for the Graham-Cassidy bill before the end of next week, when the measure will lose the procedural protection that allows it to pass with a simple majority, rather than the 60 votes that would otherwise be required.
While Republicans like the idea of federalism and block grants, many wanted to know how their states would be affected. Under the legislation, states with high health care costs — especially if they expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act — would generally lose money, while low-cost states that did not expand Medicaid would gain.
[snip]
The Republican governors who signed the letter opposing the latest Republican repeal plan were John R. Kasich of Ohio, Brian Sandoval of Nevada, Charlie Baker of Massachusetts and Phil Scott of Vermont.
Two other Republican governors, Mr. Sununu and Larry Hogan of Maryland, expressed similar concerns in separate statements.
“The Graham-Cassidy bill is not a solution that works for Maryland,” Mr. Hogan said. “It will cost our state over $2 billion annually while directly jeopardizing the health care of our citizens.”
Mr. Graham and Mr. Cassidy have cited Maryland as a state that, in their view, has been receiving more than its fair share of money under the Affordable Care Act.
Mr. Sununu said he could not support the Graham-Cassidy proposal because “New Hampshire could possibly lose over $1 billion in Medicaid funding between 2020 and 2026.” He said such a cost shift would be a particular problem for his state because “New Hampshire is proud of its tradition of not having an income tax or sales tax.”
Rand Paul and Susan Collins have already signaled "No" votes. This means that it is up to Lisa Murkowski to scuttle the bill, which shouldn't be a problem for a politician who won a general election to the U.S. Senate as a write-in.

Can there be a bigger whore than Lindsey Graham? In criticizing Trumpcare, he postured and preened as a defender of moderation and fairness, only to end up voting for it in a losing effort. Now he is actually sponsoring a new version of Trumpcare. That bitch Graham will do anything for a buck.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

U.S. Holocaust Museum Pulls Report on Syria

The United States is so wedded to "humanitarian bombing," more commonly referred to as R2P, that an innocuous academic study, which gamed out alternative approaches to the war in Syria, commissioned by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum was pulled after it was published online at the end of August. 

The study was pulled not because it was pro- or anti-Obama; the study was pulled because it failed to categorically endorse the use of military force to decapitate a "rogue" regime.

The story by Sopan Deb and Max Fisher, "The Holocaust Museum Sought Lessons on Syria. What It Got Was a Political Backlash," is worth reading. The use of massive military force to eliminate bogeymen inflated by Western propaganda cannot be questioned:
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is finding itself in an unfamiliar position: as a lightning rod for the fierce debate over the Obama administration’s role in the Syrian civil war.
The museum is facing withering criticism after pulling a study that it commissioned on Syria and published online Aug. 29. The report examined whether alternate strategies could have lessened the bloodshed, now in its sixth year.
Museum leaders and the study’s authors had sought lessons on how a future president could mitigate similar crises. Though the authors found much to dislike in President Obama’s decisions on Syria, they also concluded that no single American action would have guaranteed a significant reduction in the violence there.
Critics of the study have portrayed that conclusion as an attempt to let Mr. Obama off the hook for the killings in Syria — a weighty charge for the Holocaust museum to confront, given that it is a moral force on issues of war, mass killings and government intervention. The museum ultimately pulled down the study after receiving complaints from allies.
Since then, the museum has been caught in a political debate and faced questions about academic freedom and the board’s ties to the Obama administration.
[snip]
Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa divisions, said in an email that she was “disappointed” that the museum withdrew the research.
The study “revealed through rigorous inquiry just how difficult it is to be certain that military intervention will do more good than harm in dynamics as complex as Syria’s,” Ms. Whitson said, “especially when you factor in the disastrous U.S. record for military intervention in the region.”

Monday, September 18, 2017

The Korean War and NSC-68

From this morning's Situation Report:
Show of force. There was some international cooperation on Sunday, when U.S., South Korean, and Japanese warplanes staged a major show of force over the Korean peninsula, releasing live weapons during a joint training exercise. The flight was “in response to North Korea’s launch of an intermediate range ballistic missile over Japan on September 14,” according to a statement from the U.S. Pacific Command. The mission included two B-1B Lancer bombers, four U.S. Marine Corps F-35B Lightnings, four South Korean F-15K fighters, and four Japanese F-2 fighters.
“North Korea will be destroyed.” The exercise came hours after U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley warned Sunday that if Pyongyang continues with its nuclear and ballistic missile tests, “North Korea will be destroyed. And we all know that. And none of us want that. None of us want war...we’re trying every other possibility that we have, but there’s a whole lot of military options on the table."
Haley later told CNN that if the Washington exhausts its diplomatic options on North Korea, the U.S. military would “take care of it.” Haley continued, “We wanted to be responsible and go through all diplomatic means to get their attention first. If that doesn't work, General Mattis will take care of it.”
It is unclear what the point is of all these bellicose U.S. threats -- Proving credibility to allies? Instigating a war with North Korea? The U.S. military failed to "take care of it" 65 years ago; its track record since has not been anything to boast about.

I'm reading Nemesis: Truman and Johnson in the Coils of War in Asia (1984) by former Los Angeles Times Washington Bureau Chief  Robert J. Donovan. It is a mainstream history that hews closely to the "U.S. are the good guys" perspective. I thought it would be interesting to read a political history of the Korean and Vietnam wars written at a time before neoconservative revisionism clamped down on discourse.

One interesting, if not original, insight Donovan has is that the Korean War was key to enshrining the huge military budgets and perpetual war footing of the Cold War. Truman had been sitting on NSC-68 for months. Once hostilities broke out on the Korean Peninsula in June of 1950, adoption of NSC-68 became a fait accompli.

Since a militarized Cold War can be traced back to the Korean War, it is interesting now that we are in an era of a New Cold War, that the womb of the Old Cold War appears to be gestating. This bodes ill for Pax Americana.

For an excellent primer on the ignominious history of U.S. relations with North Korea read "End the 67-year war" by Robert Alvarez.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The Lunacy of U.S. Foreign Policy

For a snapshot of the lunacy of U.S. foreign policy, consult this morning's Situation Report by Paul McLeary and Adam Rawnsley:
On the road. Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David M. Satterfield is on the way to Astana, Kazakhstan to observe the next round of Astana Process talks on Syria. The State Department “remains concerned with Iran’s involvement as a so-called ‘guarantor’ of the Astana process,” the department said in a statement Tuesday. “Iran’s activities in Syria and unquestioning support for the Assad regime have perpetuated the conflict and increased the suffering of ordinary Syrians.”
Sanctions. The United Nations unanimously passed a new round of sanctions on North Korea but Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin is warning China that the U.S. won't ease up the pressure after they passed. "We will put additional sanctions on [China] and prevent them from accessing the U.S. and international dollar system" if they don't enforce the latest sanctions, Mnuchin told reporters. 
Phase four. Al Monitor reporter Laura Rozen tweeted Tuesday night that she's heard Trump administration-affiliated think tanks are working on strategies on how to deal with insurgencies in North Korea in the aftermath of a potential war.  
It's war all the time for the United States. Unable to admit defeat and acknowledge reality, all the U.S. can do is wage war perpetually. There is a limit to such a strategy. When will it be reached? Possibly the Korean Peninsula.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

NFL Week 1 + Votes in Germany, Kurdistan and Catalonia

The first week of the National Football League regular season wrapped up last night. I didn't see the Monday night games, but I watched all Sunday. My big takeaway is this -- In terms of a unifying story all we have in the United States is the promotion of consumption.

Who knows how long it has been that way? An argument can be made that once a majoritarian belief in "American Exceptionalism" (the Reagan version, the one concocted out of the ashes of the '60s cultural revolution) started to significantly erode with the invasion of Iraq, all we were left with were the myriad car, smartphone, bank, fast food, insurance company, et cetera commercials.

That's why the National Football League is so important. It is the only reliable conveyor belt left for corporate-managed consumption, for the mythology of consumption. The media environment is splintering, while surveillance increases, in the age of the smartphone, but broadcast television maintains a form of regency thanks to the popularity of the National Football League.

****

Some tricky votes are headed our way in the next few weeks. Not Germany's election on Sunday, September 24. Merkel is coasting to reelection. As noted in Millie Tran's "Need to Catch Up on the German Election? Here’s a Guide":
Jochen Bittner, political editor for the German weekly Die Zeit and a contributing Op-Ed writer for The Times, offered his take on why this election is not making as big a splash as its predecessors this year in Europe. He describes “mass resignation” among an electorate that has “accepted the fact that the country’s national politics are locked in place by a centrist consensus that gives them little choice at the ballot box.”
This of course is the goal of neoliberalism -- "mass resignation" -- the idea being that public policy and government should be left to corporate technocrats who will work tirelessly to redistribute wealth forever upward and automate the masses into obsolescence.

A day after the election in Germany comes the vote for Kurdish independence from Iraq. Tim Arango's "For Iraq’s Long-Suffering Kurds, Independence Beckons" is a sympathetic account of the referendum without any basic information on what is broadly accepted as a power play by president of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, and longtime autocrat of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, Masoud Barzani. None of the neighboring countries support the independence vote, nor does, at least publicly, the Iraqi Kurds' main patron, the United States. But dismemberment of Iraq has been the U.S. goal, and the goal of Saudi Arabia, since the U.S. lost the war there under George W. Bush. The caliphate might be gone, but its raison d'être lives on with an independent Kurdistan.

Raphael Minder's "Catalonia Independence Bid Pushes Spain Toward Crisis" had not one sympathetic thing to say about the pro-independence movement centered in Barcelona, though there is every indication that it has as much popular support as anything happening in Erbil. The vote is scheduled for October 1, assuming Madrid doesn't somehow sabotage it.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Click Bots are Not a Russian Creation

The latest salvo in the New Cold War with Russia is a story published last week by veteran investigative reporter Scott Shane. In "The Fake Americans Russia Created to Influence the Election" Shane argues that
The Russian information attack on the election did not stop with the hacking and leaking of Democratic emails or the fire hose of stories, true, false and in between, that battered Mrs. Clinton on Russian outlets like RT and Sputnik. Far less splashy, and far more difficult to trace, was Russia’s experimentation on Facebook and Twitter, the American companies that essentially invented the tools of social media and, in this case, did not stop them from being turned into engines of deception and propaganda.
What Shane uncovers is a minute number of fake accounts allegedly linked to a Kremlin-connected company:
An investigation by The New York Times, and new research from the cybersecurity firm FireEye, reveals some of the mechanisms by which suspected Russian operators used Twitter and Facebook to spread anti-Clinton messages and promote the hacked material they had leaked. On Wednesday, Facebook officials disclosed that they had shut down several hundred accounts that they believe were created by a Russian company linked to the Kremlin and used to buy $100,000 in ads pushing divisive issues during and after the American election campaign.
[snip]
“We know we have to stay vigilant to keep ahead of people who try to misuse our platform,” Alex Stamos, Facebook’s chief security officer, wrote on Wednesday in a post about the Russia-linked fake accounts and ads. “We believe in protecting the integrity of civic discourse.”
Critics say that because shareholders judge the companies partly based on a crucial data point — “monthly active users” — they are reluctant to police their sites too aggressively for fear of reducing that number. The companies use technical tools and teams of analysts to detect bogus accounts, but the scale of the sites — 328 million users on Twitter, nearly two billion on Facebook — means they often remove impostors only in response to complaints.
Though both companies have been slow to grapple with the problem of manipulation, they have stepped up efforts to purge fake accounts. Facebook says it takes down a million accounts a day — including some that were related to the recent French election and upcoming German voting — but struggles to keep up with the illicit activity. Still, the company says the abuse affects only a small fraction of the social network; Facebook officials estimated that of all the “civic content” posted on the site in connection with the United States election, less than one-tenth of one percent resulted from “information operations” like the Russian campaign.
Twitter, unlike Facebook, does not require the use of a real name and does not prohibit automated accounts, arguing that it seeks to be a forum for open debate. But it constantly updates a “trends” list of most-discussed topics or hashtags, and it says it tries to foil attempts to use bots to create fake trends. However, FireEye found that the suspected Russian bots sometimes managed to do just that, in one case causing the hashtag #HillaryDown to be listed as a trend.
 As Moon of Alabama posted last week, "How $100,000 of unspecific advertisement would influence an election in which more than $1 billion was spend on political ads is unexplained." MoA points out that the "Russians did it!" is a diversion from the larger story of the fraudulent advertising sales that form the foundation of Facebook's business. John Lanchester discussed this in a lengthy article, "You Are the Product," devoted to Facebook which appeared this summer in the London Review of Books:
Facebook seems vulnerable to these disenchantment effects. One place they are likely to begin is in the core area of its business model – ad-selling. The advertising it sells is ‘programmatic’, i.e. determined by computer algorithms that match the customer to the advertiser and deliver ads accordingly, via targeting and/or online auctions. The problem with this from the customer’s point of view – remember, the customer here is the advertiser, not the Facebook user – is that a lot of the clicks on these ads are fake. There is a mismatch of interests here. Facebook wants clicks, because that’s how it gets paid: when ads are clicked on. But what if the clicks aren’t real but are instead automated clicks from fake accounts run by computer bots? This is a well-known problem, which particularly affects Google, because it’s easy to set up a site, allow it to host programmatic ads, then set up a bot to click on those ads, and collect the money that comes rolling in. On Facebook the fraudulent clicks are more likely to be from competitors trying to drive each others’ costs up.
The industry publication Ad Week estimates the annual cost of click fraud at $7 billion, about a sixth of the entire market. One single fraud site, Methbot, whose existence was exposed at the end of last year, uses a network of hacked computers to generate between three and five million dollars’ worth of fraudulent clicks every day. Estimates of fraudulent traffic’s market share are variable, with some guesses coming in at around 50 per cent; some website owners say their own data indicates a fraudulent-click rate of 90 per cent. This is by no means entirely Facebook’s problem, but it isn’t hard to imagine how it could lead to a big revolt against ‘ad tech’, as this technology is generally known, on the part of the companies who are paying for it. I’ve heard academics in the field say that there is a form of corporate groupthink in the world of the big buyers of advertising, who are currently responsible for directing large parts of their budgets towards Facebook. That mindset could change. Also, many of Facebook’s metrics are tilted to catch the light at the angle which makes them look shiniest. A video is counted as ‘viewed’ on Facebook if it runs for three seconds, even if the user is scrolling past it in her news feed and even if the sound is off. Many Facebook videos with hundreds of thousands of ‘views’, if counted by the techniques that are used to count television audiences, would have no viewers at all.
To single out Russia in all of this is absurd. Click bots are everywhere. The problem is not a Russian one. Shane's story received prominent placement on the front page of The New York Times; the Equifax hack, a much bigger story, got bottom of the fold.

At least Shane acknowledges that who gets labeled a "Russian troll" is often a regular Russophile citizen:
“Yes, the Russians were involved. Yes, there’s a lot of organic support for Trump,” said Andrew Weisburd, an Illinois online researcher who has written frequently about Russian influence on social media. “Trying to disaggregate the two was difficult, to put it mildly.”
Mr. Weisburd said he had labeled some Twitter accounts “Kremlin trolls” based simply on their pro-Russia tweets and with no proof of Russian government ties. The Times contacted several such users, who insisted that they had come by their anti-American, pro-Russian views honestly, without payment or instructions from Moscow.
“Hillary’s a warmonger,” said Marilyn Justice, 66, who lives in Nova Scotia and tweets as @mkj1951. Of Mr. Putin, she said in an interview, “I think he’s very patient in the face of provocations.”
Ms. Justice said she had first taken an interest in Russia during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, while looking for hockey coverage and finding what she considered a snide anti-Russia bias in the Western media. She said she did get a lot of news from Sputnik and RT but laughed at the notion that she could have Kremlin connections.
Another of the so-called Kremlin trolls, Marcel Sardo, 48, a web producer in Zurich, describes himself bluntly on his Twitter bio as a “Pro-Russia Media-Sniper.” He said he shared notes daily via Skype and Twitter with online acquaintances, including Ms. Justice, on disputes between Russia and the West over who shot down the Malaysian airliner hit by a missile over Ukraine and who used sarin gas in Syria.
“It’s a battle of information, and I and my peers have decided to take sides,” said Mr. Sardo, who constantly cites Russian sources and bashed Mrs. Clinton daily during the campaign. But he denied he had any links to the Russian government.
 The important thing to remember is that the New Cold War is an effort to occlude the collapse of support for neoliberalism, the governing dogma of mainstream political parties. It is a ham-handed attempt meant to freeze the free fall of the political order.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Trump's Dead End

Today is one of those rare occasions when the editorial page of The New York Times is in agreement with the World Socialist Web Site. Donald Trump's flailing response to North Korea's missile tests and Sunday's detonation of a nuclear device is the agent of unification.

In "An Incoherent Strategy on North Korea" the NYT discards the conventional Western portrayal of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un as an insane, power-hungry despot:
North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, is certainly playing a dangerous game; Nikki Haley, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, warned Monday that Mr. Kim is “begging for war.” But unless he is completely deranged he must know that war with the United States would be suicide. He seems to regard nuclear weapons as his only guarantee of survival in the face of American hostility.
He has reason to worry: Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, the Libyan leader, gave up his nascent nuclear program in 2003 in return for promises of economic integration with the West. But when rebels rose up against him, he was bombed by the United States and its allies, then executed by rebels.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have insisted that the United States is not aiming for regime change. But it could be doing considerably more to lower the temperature and lead the way to a more peaceful solution. On Sunday, Mr. Mattis seemed intent on doing just the opposite, promising a “massive military response” in return for “any threat” — not just an attack but the threat of an attack — against the United States; its territories, like Guam; or its allies. And while Mr. Mattis and Mr. Tillerson have both hinted at dialogue with the North, Mr. Trump tweeted that “talking is not the answer!”
The Times editorial writer might have lifted this notion of the influential nature of Qaddafi's downfall on North Korea's commitment to its nuclear and ballistic missile program from none other than Vladimir Putin. According to WSWS's Alex Lantier in "Danger of global war over Korea shakes Europe":
Speaking at the BRICS (Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa) summit in Xiamen, China, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that aggressive action by the United States and its allies against North Korea could lead to world war: “Ramping up military hysteria in such conditions is senseless; it’s a dead end. It could lead to a global, planetary catastrophe and a huge loss of human life. There is no other way to solve the North Korean nuclear issue, save that of peaceful dialogue.”
Putin made clear that Pyongyang’s reckless pursuit of its nuclear weapons program is a desperate attempt to deter an attack like the 2003 US war of aggression against Iraq or the 2011 NATO war in Libya, in which European powers including France and Britain played leading roles in launching.
He said, “We all remember what happened with Iraq and Saddam Hussein. His children were killed, I think his grandson was shot, the whole country was destroyed and Saddam Hussein was hanged ... We all know how this happened, and people in North Korea remember well what happened in Iraq. They will eat grass but will not stop their program as long as they do not feel safe.”
Everyone is calling for talks except Trump, who is acting as if this is nothing more than a hard-nosed Manhattan real estate deal (with nuclear weapons added). Stock indexes are beginning to factor in the volatility of the situation.

The Saker, in a post, "Make no mistake, the latest US thuggery is a sign of weakness, not strength," devoted to the recent U.S. "raids" on the Russian Consulate in San Francisco and the Russian diplomatic annexes in Washington and New York, captures how bizarre and out of control the situation has become:
This is also really scary. The combination of, on one hand, spineless subservience to the Neocons with intellectual mediocrity, a gross lack of professionalism and the kind of petty thuggery normally associated with street gangs and, on the other hand, nuclear weapons is very scary. In the mean time, the other nuclear armed crazies have just declared that they have a thermonuclear device which they apparently tested yesterday just to show their contempt for Trump and his general minions. I don’t think that they have a hydrogen bomb. I don’t think that they have a real ICBM. I don’t even think that they have real (usable) nuclear warheads. But what if I am wrong? What if they did get a lot of what they claim to have today – such as rocket engines – from the Ukies?
In one corner, the Outstanding Leader, Brilliant Comrade, Young Master and Great Successor, Kim Jong-un and on the other, The Donald, Grab them by the xxxxx and Make ‘Merica Great, the Grand Covfefe Donald Trump. Both armed with nukes.
Scary, scary shit. Really scary.
But even more scary and depressing is that the stronger man of the two is beyond any doubt Kim Jong-un.
All I see in the White House are vacancy signs.
Against the nearly universal call for talks, the neocon hive mind, as well as South Korean President Moon Jai-in, has settled on the idea of increased sanctions targeting Chinese oil sales and Chinese banks. This is no golden-ticket solution because China has ample representation in the United States Government. Chimerica is real.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

No is Not Enough

I spent the holiday weekend reading Naomi Klein's latest book, No is Not Enough. It is good, better I think than This Changes Everything.

No is Not Enough argues that we can't simply vote out Trump, replace him with a neoliberal Democrat and expect all to be well. We need to start articulating utopian manifestos, which Klein did in Canada with the Leap Manifesto.

Klein seems hopeful that a progressive political movement is on the verge of taking power. She points to the surprising performances of Bernie Sanders and Jean-Luc Mélenchon as proof.

But what is surprising to me is the recent success of a zombie neoliberalism in France where Macron has successfully pared back the Code du Travail in favor of business. The change is being sold as necessary to reduce unemployment, but the result will be an increase in inequality. Yesterday on the op-ed page of The New York Times two academics argued for industry-wide pattern bargaining as a way to address endemic income inequality in the United States, the very fix that Macron just eliminated in French labor law.

With Merkel headed for a fourth term, the neoliberal world order that seemed headed for the dustbin last year plods on. I hope Klein is right that a huge progressive, socialist movement is being born. But my sense is that the shocks that neoliberalism uses to expand its control of the public sphere are going to have to become so severe that they exceed the ability of the political order to manage them.

So to answer the question, Socialism or barbarism? I think to get to socialism things are first going to have to become even more barbaric.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Hippies vs. Punks: Gregg Allman's Laid Back (1973)


Gregg Allman died at the end of May. I have been meaning to say something about his first solo album, Laid Back (1973), a gold record that reached high up the charts in both Canada and United States. I have listened to Laid Back off and on my whole life: first as a child -- it was a staple of my parents' record collection in the 1970s -- and then as an adult -- it provided a musical accompaniment to my meager peregrinations as a bachelor.

Laid Back beautifully documents the Hippie Weltanschauung during the Watergate era. The counterculture revolution had failed to overturn the established political order, but it had successfully produced a massified bohemia. Nixon won an historic landslide in 1972, but by October of 1973, when Laid Back was released, he was desperately trying to keep hold of his presidency after the Saturday Night Massacre.

It is this combination of cooling New Left revolutionary fervor (how many got sucked in by McGovern?) with an enormous political crisis of the major parties, plus a massified bohemia, that creates a truly unique period. There was an absolute confidence that the old way of doing things was done, yet there was no urgency to come up with a new scheme. The horizon wasn't blasted wide open by brilliant psychedelic sunshine, as it had been at the end of the 1960s, but it was roomy and familiar. There appeared to be no impediments to free movement. So instead of more fussing and fighting and erecting of new worlds, why not just kick back on the couch or putter around the yard? Why not just be laid back?

The other night I happened to see the opening of Lindsay Anderson's classic film from 1973, O Lucky Man! Alan Price, like Gregg Allman, a keyboard player (he founded the Animals), captures the post-failed-revolutionary chic of the Watergate era.


The Watergate era ends with Jimmy Carter's election. (That's why The Last Waltz, filmed on Thanksgiving 1976 and released the spring of 1978, is an essential document because it captures the cultural exit of the Hippie; it also corresponds with the rise and fall of first wave Punk.)

The Watergate era I would mark as beginning in the spring of 1973, when the Senate Watergate Committee got cooking, until the summer of 1976 and the hurricane of propaganda unleashed by the U.S. Bicentennial. A little over three years.

I remember the period fondly because it was the last time my family was together under one roof. We lived in a large Victorian house in a town at the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains. There was a carriage house and spacious grounds filled with frog ponds and old trees.

I remember intently studying the Laid Back cover art of Mati Klarwein. I remember taking a trip to the hardware store with my father on a Saturday afternoon as "Midnight Rider" played on the car radio, a long-haired, long-bearded Hippie standing in a front yard next to a tire swing as we drove by.

Assessing a Third-Party Challenge: Four More Years of MAGA

Yesterday FiveThirtyEight published a round-table chat devoted to the possibilities of a third party in the 2020 U.S. presidential election, "Can A Third-Party Ticket Win In 2020? Maybe — but it probably won’t be Kasichlooper." ("Kasichlooper" is a Nate Silver neologism referring to a John Kasich-John Hickenlooper prseidential ticket.)

The conversation was disappointingly superficial. There was no discussion of the sky-high hurdles that exist to ballot access for third parties and independents; no meaningful probing of the impacts that third parties have had on the history of the United States; nor was there even a single mention of the super-historic third-way triumph this year in France when Emmanuel Macron walloped the chauvinist Marine Le Pen in the presidential election and then soon after his brand-new political party, En Marche!, swept parliamentary elections.

The end result of the FiveThirtyEight talk was the mocking, puerile conclusion that only a celebrity candidate like Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson could mount a significant challenge to the major parties in 2020.

This doesn't mean that FiveThirtyEight round table failed to illuminate. One of Silver's interlocutors, senior writer Perry Bacon Jr., opined that
. . . Kasich/Hickenlooper is the kind of unity ticket that people in the Beltway and the media (like me) tend to think is appealing to voters: moderate in tone, more economically conservative and socially liberal. I think there isn’t any evidence that voters want this kind of ticket and there is a lot of evidence (the rise of Sanders and Trump) that voters don’t want this kind of candidate. I do think a third-party candidate can do well. I really do. But I suspect it’s more of an outsider/celebrity than a bunch of old pols who are somehow trying to split the difference between the two existing parties.
What Bacon doesn't acknowledge is that the entire U.S. political system is based on not giving the voters what they want. The FiveThirtyEight writers dismiss a Bloomberg candidacy because he is a cosmopolitan billionaire (who cares about gun control and climate change) without mentioning that he was ready to pull the trigger in 2016 if Hillary's Southern firewall was breached by Bernie on Super Tuesday. It wasn't. So Bloomberg didn't mount a third-party challenge.

The important takeaway is that Mike Bloomberg was ready to spend profligately from his personal fortune and launch a kamikaze third-party attack on the two-party system if a non-neoliberal took control of the Democrats. Bloomberg didn't throw down the gauntlet when Trump remarkably captured Bloomberg's Republican Party.

So the entire frame of the FiveThirtyEight chat -- that a third party will arise in 2020 because of Trump on the basis that 1) Trump himself is blocked from the GOP nomination and decides to run under an independent "MAGA" banner, or 2) that a "moderate" Republican like Kasich will stray from the GOP rez in search of suburban soccer moms -- is ass backwards.

The correct lens for a third-party challenge in 2020 is if Bernie Sanders, who will be 79 in three years, looks like he is going to win the Democratic nomination. Then we will see a billionaire-sponsored third-party candidacy emerge. It could be a corporate chief like Howard Schultz or a celebrity wax dummy like The Rock.

France proves that a zombie neoliberalism can still dominate the polls, and with tantalizing results for the plutocrats. The correct variables are required: a baleful xenophobe on the right; a social-democratic uprising on the left; a shocked, terrorized electorate.

Make no mistake. A U.S. Macron is a distinct possibility in 2020 (maybe even a female iteration). But s/he wouldn't win. S/he would merely guarantee that a social democrat wouldn't win.

Which means four more years of MAGA.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Where Monsters Dwell #13


Where Monsters Dwell #13, with a publication date of January 1972, reprints the cover story, "I Dared to Battle the Crawling Creature," which first appeared in Tales to Astonish #22 (August 1961). Gil Kane provided the cover for the reprint, making the nerdy high-school hero of the story distinctly early-'70s hip. The original cover maintains the boyishness of the protagonist.


"I Dared to Battle the Crawling Creature" is yet another Lee-Kirby monster story, Marvel's staple before its superhero books took off (Fantastic Four #1 was published a few months later). 

As we've explored in the past, these Lee-Kirby monster stories were usually metaphors for the Cold War. An extraterrestrial or subterranean behemoth bent on world domination threatens the safety of a homogeneous, guileless society but is ultimately foiled by the pluck and quick-thinking of an average American (usually a teenager).

What is absent from "I Dared to Battle the Crawling Creature" is any hint of world domination, other than the drilling machine that the government is testing to plumb the Earth's unexplored depths. Everything else is much the same. 

A belittled --"Walter Carter -- the only joker in school who can't catch a football!" -- book-reading high-school student signs up to be a subject in a government experiment that sends a boring machine deep underground. 

Once Walter's capsule comes to a stop "dozens of miles" below the surface, he discovers a strangely luminescent world of cavemen who live in fear of a huge reptile, "the Crawling Creature." 

The Crawling Creature follows Walter back up the bore hole, which happens to be near the Grand Canyon; Walter lures the monster over the canyon's edge, and then he is rescued by a passing helicopter dangling a rope ladder. (Kirby has used the rope ladder dropped from a helicopter more than once.)

Both Marvel and DC are celebrating the centennial of Jack Kirby's birth this month. DC's effort has been much more noticeable on the shelves of my local comic shop, which is strange given that Marvel is synonymous with Kirby. Just as there would be no Marvel without Stan Lee, there would be no Marvel without Jack Kirby.

I asserted last week that the NFL is the only thing that constitutes a U.S. national cultural nowadays. I should amend that to include the big comic-book publishers, Marvel and DC, as well as Hollywood.

Jack Kirby's characters -- Black Panther, Captain America, Silver Surfer, the Inhumans, the X-Men, et al. -- have more impact on the youth of the nation than a diminishing Christianity. It is far more common to walk down the street and see someone wearing a Captain America shield t-shirt than almost any other non-sports logo.

Before Marvel's superhero revolution of the 1960s were its monster stories. It is interesting that now Marvel (and DC) superheroes are really all that keep us from realizing our monstrosity.









Tuesday, August 29, 2017

North Korea and Iran

With North Korea sending a ballistic missile over Hokkaido, Trump has opted for the tried and true “all options are on the table” over the incendiary rhetoric he used earlier this month.

North Korea continues to launch test missiles in response to ongoing U.S.-South Korean war games. The U.S. mainstream media downplays the importance of the war games, usually burying them far down in any story about the North Korean missile tests. Most stories emphasize the irrational, aggressive nature of North Korean leadership, when in fact it is the United States that continually acts in an aggressive and contradictory fashion.

This will be on full display shortly when Trump attempts to scuttle the Iranian nuclear accord. The IAEA is set to report that Iran is in compliance with the agreement. The Trump administration is casting about for a way to end the deal without risking international isolation for the United States. The Israelis have floated the idea of de-certification without withdrawal. The Iranians will likely not be bated. Europe will honor the agreement. With trade restricted with Russia thanks to the U.S.-launched New Cold War, economic expansion in Persia looks particularly appetizing to Berlin and Paris.

There is linkage between North Korea and Iran as Gardiner Harris reported yesterday in "If Report Says Iran Is Abiding by Nuclear Deal, Will Trump Heed It?":
[Senator Richard J. Durbin, an Illinois Democrat] said that scrapping the deal without any evidence that Iran was seriously violating its terms would damage American credibility around the world and all but guarantee that North Korea would refuse to undergo a similar set of negotiations to end its own nuclear program, now Mr. Tillerson’s top goal.
“If the president voids this without any evidence of a breach, it calls into question the credibility of the United States not just on Iran but North Korea and everything else,” Mr. Durbin said. “That cannot be in the interests of the United States.”
American credibility is already mortally wounded.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Trump's Poll Numbers Should Continue to Decline

Last week Nate Silver's "7 Rules For Reading Trump’s Approval Rating" established some helpful guidelines for looking at Trump's poll numbers post-Charlottesville and with Congress soon to return from its August recess and begin budget negotiations.

Silver didn't see any big dip in support for Trump due to his pro-fascist comments following Charlottesville, but that doesn't mean that Trump is holding steady. Silver argues that Trump is losing a percentage point a month, and Trump's rock bottom is somewhere in the mid-to-low-20s:
But let’s not lose sight of the big picture. Despite the relatively small shift after Charlottesville, the overall trend in Trump’s numbers so far has been toward decline. In fact, a simple linear trend line captures most of the variation in his approval ratings so far and implies that his approval ratings are dropping slightly more than 1 percentage point per month. If Trump were to continue losing ground at this rate — though he probably won’t (see below) — it would be truly catastrophic for him, as his numbers would fall into the low 20s by midterms.
Silver identifies an underlying seesaw to Trump's polling numbers. Approval tends to decline over a president's term, but it also tends to revert to the mean; this helps explain why the dam has never really broken on Trump:
And while there are a couple rules of thumb for how presidential approval ratings behave over the long run, they’re contradictory in Trump’s case. On the one hand, approval ratings tend to decline over the course of a president’s term, which would predict a further decrease for Trump. On the other hand — in part because of partisanship — approval ratings are mean-reverting, meaning that they tend to rise when they’re lower than roughly 40 percent and to decline when they’re above 50 percent, which would tend to produce an increase since Trump’s ratings are below 40 percent now.
So far, the first rule — a president’s rating tends to get worse during his term — has usually won out for Trump, and his approval rating has continued to decline. But the first rule won’t necessarily keep winning the tug-of-war with the second rule. Partisan gravity could pull Trump’s numbers back into the low 40s if he has a couple of relatively calm weeks or months — as he did this April, for example. Or an issue that Americans aren’t thinking about very much now — say, a military confrontation with North Korea — could be pivotal in the 2018 and 2020 elections. The best news for Trump is that there’s a long way to go before voters go to the polls again.
Trump could get a bump if it turns out that his handling of Hurricane Harvey wasn't completely inept. I think the bar is low here because of the chaos unleashed by 2005's Hurricane Katrina. If Harvey's damage is less, which it appears to be, and Trump's response is less callous than Bush's, then he comes away unscathed.

On the other hand, the Arpaio pardon is not going to be a winner for Trump. It reveals that Trump is completely dependent upon the Bannon formula -- motivating the hard-shell Tea Party types -- to cling to power. The only way this strategy continues to be a winner is if the Democrats remain completely deplorable. Right now, though there is some indication that leadership is beginning to figure things out, that seems a good bet.

Big trouble awaits Trump when Congress begins work on the budget. Trump has threatened a government shutdown unless funds for the border wall are appropriated. The Freedom Caucus is going to want big cuts in social and regulatory programs.

Another enormous problem for Trump is that by now it should be apparent to all the "America First" libertarians who voted for him that perpetual war has not been pared back; it is expanding.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Protest Spreads in the NFL


With two preseason games left to be played, the jumbo jet that is the National Football League regular season is taxiing on the runway. The NFL is all that is left of national culture in the United States; it is the only thing you can talk about with just about anyone in any American city; it is the paste, however thin, that sticks Americans together; it also remains the foundation of broadcast television.

That's why last year an unexpected significant loss of viewers at the beginning of the season caused wails of lamentation in corporate boardrooms across the country. The unspoken fear was that if interest in the NFL disintegrated then capitalism itself couldn't be far behind.

Many explanations for the ratings drop were floated -- the presidential election, the splintering of consciousness due to smartphones, and, my choice, for the first time in years (decades?) most of the games were plain old lousy -- before the plutocrats who guide the NFL settled on ailing San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick as the scapegoat.

Kaepernick started kneeling last year during the national anthem to protest institutional racism and show support for Black Lives Matter. His protest was picked up by players throughout the league before petering out by November. Viewership had started to pick back up by then. So the NFL, in a fit of "magical thinking," conveniently tarred Kaepernick and his un-American protest the root cause of the problem.

Since then Kaepenick has severed his relationship with the 49ers. A big story of the off-season was his inability to secure employment. A blacklist was obviously at work. Talk to any fan -- even if s/he dislikes Kaepernick --and s/he will tell you the same thing: He is good enough to start for most teams. The Denver Broncos could likely return to the Super Bowl with Kap at QB. If a wheeler-dealer like Broncos GM John Elway passed on Kaepernick the only meaningful explanation is that the league is enforcing a blacklist.

The problem for the NFL, as Ken Belson explored the other day in "Kaepernick’s Protest Cascades Into Protests Over His Job Situation," is that, post-Charlottesville, Kaepernick's protest of last season has reappeared this preseason and it is broader and better organized among the players:
On Monday, in the largest on-field demonstration yet, a dozen Cleveland Browns players knelt during the national anthem, while several other players stood next to them in solidarity. In contrast to last season, when Kaepernick and a handful of black players refused to stand during the anthem, the group included white players.
Goodell has insisted that the league’s 32 teams are not banning Kaepernick. But the issue has put Goodell in the awkward position of defending owners and coaches who have twisted themselves in knots defending their decision not to sign Kaepernick, a quarterback who, unlike the two dozen or so who have been signed so far this year, has led a team to a Super Bowl.
From Baltimore to Miami to Seattle, teams in need of starting or backup quarterbacks signed players with either little experience or a mixed track record, and had to explain, often awkwardly, why they had passed over Kaepernick, who opted out of his contract with the 49ers in March. The Dolphins even coaxed Jay Cutler out of retirement.
Kaepernick and the anthem-kneeling dispute that he inspired are just the latest in a series of headaches for Goodell and the N.F.L., which is in the spotlight again for its handling of players who are accused of domestic violence, for its handling of concussions and for its harsh stand against the use of marijuana, which some players contend is a safer alternative to the highly addictive painkillers that teams dispense.
The continuing debate over whether players should or should not stand for the national anthem, though, is perhaps the most explosive issue facing the N.F.L., which celebrates patriotism and military service like no other league. The anthem-kneeling that Kaepernick inspired has divided fans like few other issues and has shown signs of chipping away at the league’s bottom line.
Television ratings at every one of the league’s network partners fell last year for the first time, and while the reasons for the decline are complicated — including the presidential election and the absence of recognizable stars like Peyton Manning — some fans said they had stopped watching the N.F.L. because Kaepernick and other players knelt during the anthem.
As the controversy continues into its second year, more fans who look to sports for a diversion from politics could turn away as the season progresses.
I think the idea that TVs were turned off because a barely visible player or two took a knee or raised a fist during the national anthem is pure bullshit; to believe that, you are basically making a ultra-nationalist political statement.

The reality is that the games were no good; that, and people are gradually abandoning broadcast television.

Who knows why the early season match-ups were so poor.  If teams figure out new offensive schemes this year, or Marshawn Lynch has a big comeback with the Raiders, or any of a dozen captivating storylines, people will tune in. The NFL remains the most powerful opiate in our opioid nation.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Trump Puts Charlottesville Behind Him: Phoenix was an Enormous Wasted Opportunity

Phoenix has to be chalked up as a win for Trump. Looking at stories in The New York Times and RT, both filled with video, the crowds outside the convention center looked thin. Simon Romero of The Times said thousands; RT, hundreds. Did the police fire away with tear gas? No doubt. But there is also no doubt that a serious #resist organizing campaign was absent.

This is troubling because it means that actual resistance to Trump is local, like Charlottesville, and not national. What is national, like MoveOn's "Resistance Recess" and "Resistance Summer," is aimed at pressuring Congress. Would the Voting Rights Act of 1965 passed with such a campaign? No, you needed the "Bloody Sunday" of the Selma to Montgomery march.

Phoenix was an enormous opportunity wasted. Trump was able to put Charlottesville behind him. He cleaned up his "both sides" rhetoric and gave his fans what they wanted, attacks on the mainstream media. According to Mark Landler and Maggie Haberman in "At Rally, Trump Blames Media for Country’s Deepening Divisions":
Mr. Trump accused the news media of “trying to take away our history and our heritage,” an apparent reference to the debate over removing statues to heroes of the Confederacy, which prompted the rally by neo-Nazis and white supremacists in Charlottesville.
The president singled out a familiar list of malefactors — including the “failing New York Times,” which he erroneously said had apologized for its coverage of the 2016 election; CNN; and The Washington Post, which he described as a lobbying arm for Amazon, the company controlled by the newspaper’s owner, Jeff Bezos.
Trump's got a winning formula. If he fucks up in D.C. and loses control of the narrative, he just heads off to a sunbelt metropolis and puts on one of his cracker minstrel shows. Suddenly, he's back in charge, leading the news on his terms.

Phoenix was where all that could have ended and the battle that was won at Charlottesville reaffirmed. The fact that the "Resistance" either could not -- or chose not to -- shut down Trump in Phoenix is proof that the "Resistance" is merely a smokescreen for returning business-as-usual Democrats to power.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Trump's Phoenix Rally Ripe for a Shutdown

After reading Jess Bidgood's "What to Know Ahead of Trump’s Rally in Arizona" it is apparent that Trump's rally in Phoenix tonight is ripe for a direct-action shutdown. All the elements are present: a centralized location, the Phoenix Convention Center; lots of bodies on the street participating in numerous, separate rallies/marches; and a large, twitchy police force. The only thing missing is an organized Earth First!esque monkey-wrenching action, like a street sit-down with arms interlocked in PVC pipe. I don't know if the anarchist kids of antifa do direct action other than street fighting, but now would be an excellent time to expand the repertoire.

Monday, August 21, 2017

By the Time Trump Gets to Phoenix

When was the last time an event dominated the news for a week like Charlottesville did last week? When the U.S. bombed a Syrian government airfield in April? Maybe.

Trump is about to fan the flames of Charlottesville again. He is staging one of his cracker minstrel shows at the Phoenix Convention Center tomorrow night. Protesters are flocking to the Valley of the Sun. A riot is a distinct possibility.

Trump is going to Phoenix purely for political reasons. The question is whether he will pardon anti-immigrant former sheriff of Maricopa County Joe Arpaio, who, according to the NYT, "was found guilty of criminal contempt of court when he defied a judge’s order in a case involving racial profiling."

Trump's visit would likely have come off without a hitch prior to Charlottesville. But something has shifted in the body politic since last Saturday. The street is alive once again, and Democratic politicos are watching from the sidewalk. By the time Trump gets to Phoenix this marginalization of the elite will be on display once again for all to see. The Resistance is looking like a real resistance, so much so that Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi are no doubt losing sleep figuring out how to appropriate and/or tamp down the movement.

Friday, August 18, 2017

The Deep State's Russian Hacking Narrative Collapsing

After Charlottesville and the reintroduction of the throbbing heart of American politics, white supremacy, the deep-state spun yarn of Russian subversion of Western democracy looks exactly like what it was all along -- a dubious spy-vs.-spy potboiler complete with bears both fancy and cozy cooked up in Langley and spoon fed to a servile media.

Yesterday, as if to say, "Please, don't forget about the New Cold War when you are tearing down all those monuments to the Lost Cause," The New York Times published the frontpager, "In Ukraine, a Malware Expert Who Could Blow the Whistle on Russian Hacking," by its two journeymen Russophobes, Andrew Kramer and Andrew Higgins.

The story is laughable. A malware architect in Ukrainian custody is cooperating with FBI. We are asked to believe that portions of code the Ukrainian, known as Profexer, authored ended up on DNC servers. We are also asked to believe that somehow it was Russian agents who put the code there.
There is no evidence that Profexer worked, at least knowingly, for Russia’s intelligence services, but his malware apparently did.
That a hacking operation that Washington is convinced was orchestrated by Moscow would obtain malware from a source in Ukraine — perhaps the Kremlin’s most bitter enemy — sheds considerable light on the Russian security services’ modus operandi in what Western intelligence agencies say is their clandestine cyberwar against the United States and Europe.
It does not suggest a compact team of government employees who write all their own code and carry out attacks during office hours in Moscow or St. Petersburg, but rather a far looser enterprise that draws on talent and hacking tools wherever they can be found.
Also emerging from Ukraine is a sharper picture of what the United States believes is a Russian government hacking group known as Advanced Persistent Threat 28 or Fancy Bear. It is this group, which American intelligence agencies believe is operated by Russian military intelligence, that has been blamed, along with a second Russian outfit known as Cozy Bear, for the D.N.C. intrusion.
Rather than training, arming and deploying hackers to carry out a specific mission like just another military unit, Fancy Bear and its twin Cozy Bear have operated more as centers for organization and financing; much of the hard work like coding is outsourced to private and often crime-tainted vendors.
[snip]
“There is not now and never has been a single piece of technical evidence produced that connects the malware used in the D.N.C. attack to the G.R.U., F.S.B. or any agency of the Russian government,” said Jeffrey Carr, the author of a book on cyberwarfare. The G.R.U. is Russia’s military intelligence agency, and the F.S.B. its federal security service.
United States intelligence agencies, however, have been unequivocal in pointing a finger at Russia.
The whole thing screams false flag. One interesting takeaway though is that the press, at least The New York Times, is starting to hedge with several statements ascribing the Russian hack theory solely to U.S. intelligence agencies. This is a recent change. For many months there was merely the bald assertion that "the Russians did it." Clearly when the "Russia hack" narrative collapses, as it already is, the media doesn't want to be forced to issue a series of retractions a la the Iraq War.

Assange says he has proof that DNC documents WikiLeaks published last year did not come from Russia. Combined with the studiously ignored story that the DNC documents were leaked not hacked, the casus belli of the deep state's New Cold War is disintegrating.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Black Bloc Brings Down the Confederate Monuments

In this morning's story, "Trump Comments on Race Open Breach With C.E.O.s, Military and G.O.P.," by Michael Shear, Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman, there is evidence that Trump has reached his "At long last, have you left no sense of decency?" moment:
The president’s top advisers described themselves as stunned, despondent and numb. Several said they were unable to see how Mr. Trump’s presidency would recover, and others expressed doubts about his capacity to do the job.
In contrast, the president told close aides that he felt liberated by his news conference. Aides said he seemed to bask afterward in his remarks, and viewed them as the latest retort to the political establishment that he sees as trying to tame his impulses.
Mr. Trump’s venting on Tuesday came despite pleas from his staff, including his daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner. Instead of taking their advice to stop talking about the protest, the president eagerly unburdened himself of what he viewed as political correctness in favor of a take-no-prisoners attack on the “alt-left.”
On Wednesday, even Fox News, a favorite of the president’s, repeatedly carried criticism of Mr. Trump. One Fox host, Shepard Smith, said that he had been unable to find a single Republican to come on-air to defend Mr. Trump’s remarks.
Whether Trump continues to hemorrhage depends on the next couple of days. The dissolution of two industry advisory panels by the White House yesterday, followed by news that Trump is fleeing to the bunker of Camp David, show an administration that is ducking and covering.

We can only hope the spotlight tarries on white supremacy for as long as possible. Charles Blow's column this morning, "The Other Inconvenient Truth," on the op-ed page of The New York Times is that that could appear in CounterPunch:
In 1994 John Ehrlichman, Nixon’s domestic-policy adviser and a Watergate co-conspirator, confessed this to the author Dan Baum:
“The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or blacks, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”
The era Ehrlichman referred to was the beginning of the War on Drugs. Nixon started his offensive in 1971, declaring in a speech from the White House Briefing Room: “America’s public enemy No. 1 in the United States is drug abuse. In order to fight and defeat this enemy, it is necessary to wage a new, all-out offensive.”
The object of disrupting communities worked all too well — more than 40 million arrests have been conducted for drug-related offenses since 1971, with African-Americans being incarcerated in state prisons for these offenses at a rate that is 10 times greater than that for whites, according to Human Rights Watch.
In 1970, Nixon’s political strategist Kevin Phillips told The New York Times, “The more Negroes who register as Democrats in the South, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans.”
The Republican Party wanted the racists. It was strategy, the “Southern Strategy,” and it too has proved wildly successful. From there this cancer took hold.
The party itself has dispensed with public confessions of this inclination — at least until Trump — but the white supremacy still survives and even thrives in policy. The stated goals of the Republican Party are not completely dissimilar from many of the white nationalist positions.
This is all true and an excellent thumbnail sketch of the constant rightward drift of national politics since Kevin Phillips penned The Emerging Republican Majority in 1969. But what Blow leaves out is how this superannuated strategy could still deliver the White House 50 years on. The answer is that the Democratic Party is guided by neoliberalism and militarism. The working class has nothing to support.

Enter Antifa. One could see this coming. With normal channels of political action ossified, anarchism has come back in a big way. It is the willingness of the Black Bloc to engage white supremacists that has prompted the rush to bring down the Confederate monuments. Public officials don't want to preside over the next Charlottesville.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Trump's Big Blunder

Trump made a significant blunder yesterday during his Trump Tower press conference. If you look at the video of the event, Trump is running scared. He declared an equivalence of violence between the white supremacists and the people who came out to protest their presence at Charlottesville.

The blunder is significant because it forces the "fake media" to become less fake. A pillar of the prestige press is to categorically deny any legitimacy, potency, urgency, effectiveness to popular leftist movements, all while inflating rightist power and popularity. To go along with this is the twin pillar of inflating any leftist property damage or scuffles with police during protests (see the Seattle WTO, Occupy Wall Street, etc.) as threats to the foundation of the state.

With Trump's assertion of equivalence between left and right at Charlottesville, the press has begun to debunk one of the great shibboleths of mainstream political discourse. For example, there is Linda Qiu's "Trump Asks, ‘What About the Alt-Left?’ Here’s an Answer":
[T]here is one stark difference between the violence on the two sides: The police said that James Alex Fields Jr. of Ohio drove his car into a crowd and killed at least one person, Heather Heyer. Mr. Fields was charged with second-degree murder.
Comparing Antifa to Mr. Fields’s act is like “comparing a propeller plane to a C-130 transport,” said Brian Levin, the director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino.
“Using the fact that some counterprotesters were, in fact, violent, creates a structural and moral false equivalency that is seriously undermining the legitimacy of this president,” Professor Levin said.
Antifa and black block — the far left of today — engaging in street brawls and property damage, while reprehensible, is “not domestic terrorism,” said J. J. MacNab, a fellow in the Program on Extremism at George Washington University. Similar episodes of extreme violence certainly exist on the left: the recent congressional baseball shooting in Virginia, or the bombing of the North Carolina Republican Party headquarters. 
But overall, far-right extremist plots have been far more deadly than far-left plots (and Islamist plots eclipsed both) in the past 25 years, according to a breakdown of two terrorism databases by Alex Nowrasteh, an analyst at the libertarian Cato Institute.
White nationalists; militia movements; anti-Muslim attackers; I.R.S. building and abortion clinic bombers; and other right-wing groups were responsible for 12 times as many fatalities and 36 times as many injuries as communists; socialists; animal rights and environmental activists; anti-white- and Black Lives Matter-inspired attackers; and other left-wing groups.
Of the nearly 1,500 individuals in a University of Maryland study of radicalization from 1948 to 2013, 43 percent espoused far-right ideologies, compared to 21 percent for the far left. Far-right individuals were more likely to commit violence against people, while those on the far left were more likely to commit property damage.
True, it is just one story. But I can't recall having seen anything like it in the pages of The New York Times. It is a good sign, and a bad one for Trump.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Trump's Hurricane Katrina

How many times can white resentment be resuscitated as a political force? Still potent in terms of controlling Congress, I thought it was dead as a factor determining a national election. I was wrong. The rural crackers came out in droves, to paraphrase Bibi Netanyahu speaking of Arab voters in the 2015 Israeli legislative elections, and cast ballots for Trump.

But this isn't a renascent power returning to occupy the center. This recrudescence of white nationalism is just as much about the failure of the Democrats to inspire mass voter participation. We are left with two major parties that have no broad popular appeal. Trump's political genius -- or is it Bannon's? -- was to recognize that in such a political environment any ideology that can galvanize a segment of the electorate is enough to beat the Democratic Party when it is led by Wall Street.

The downside to this strategy is that it is only a matter of time before sunshine appears and people react with revulsion. Charlottesville appears to be that moment. It's Trump's Hurricane Katrina. Voters don't want Gerald L.K. Smith as president.

Statues of Confederate heroes are coming down. Bannon is being made to walk the plank. This from today's Situation Report:
Bannon in Limbo. NYT: “Rupert Murdoch has repeatedly urged President Trump to fire him. Anthony Scaramucci, the president's former communications director, thrashed him on television as a white nationalist. Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, the national security adviser, refused to even say he could work with him.
"For months, Mr. Trump has considered ousting Stephen K. Bannon, the White House chief strategist and relentless nationalist who ran the Breitbart website and called it a 'platform for the alt-right.' Mr. Trump has sent Mr. Bannon to a kind of internal exile, and has not met face-to-face for more than a week with a man who was once a fixture in the Oval Office, according to aides and friends of the president.”
If Bannon goes Trump is left without his mix master; he'll be the star of The Apprentice sitting in the Oval Office with very little hope, other than that provided by the incompetence of the Democrats, that he can remain there after 2020.