Thursday, December 28, 2017

Let's Hope that #MeToo Doesn't Disappear Prematurely

#MeToo is approaching its flame out. (See David Walsh's "The petition against Matt Damon and the 'erasing' of Kevin Spacey: The fiercely antidemocratic character of the sexual misconduct campaign.") Apparently there is a campaign to erase Matt Damon's brief appearance in the all-female Ocean's 8 because he is alleged to have provided cover for Harvey Weinstein's sexual predations.

Walsh argues that
For the [New YorkTimes and the American ruling elite, the obsessive publicizing of allegations of sexual wrongdoing reflects in part the desire to “change the subject” from the social disaster in America, the cancerous growth of social inequality and the eruption of US militarism around the globe. It also serves to deepen the attack on democratic rights and inure the population to the “disappearing” of heretical or controversial figures, helping to set the stage for outright mass political repression. 
The arrogant, self-absorbed and affluent layer, male and female, pursuing the campaign also has its own economic and social agenda. Individuals who are already in many cases privileged and wealthy would have us believe that sexual harassment, which now includes a wide range of behavior, is a martyrdom and its victims are among the most put-upon and oppressed members of society. 
Such a claim would have been unthinkable even a few decades ago. It was generally recognized then, and not simply by socialists, that the working class and the poor, and especially working-class and poor women, were the principal sufferers in modern society. There has been a huge economic and ideological shift. A self-absorbed upper middle class, determined to elbow everyone else out of the way, now insists that its experiences are earthshaking and world-historical. 
This layer, made wealthy by the stock market boom, various media and entertainment industry activities and other parasitic enterprises, is distant from and hostile to the working class. Like the American ruling elite as a whole, it is utterly contemptuous of democratic principles.
I think the Trotskyites at WSWS are wide of the mark here. To NYT's credit, it ran a lengthy, excellent front-pager about entrenched, decades-long sexual harassment at two Ford plants in Chicago -- see "How Tough Is It to Change a Culture of Harassment? Ask Women at Ford," by Susan Chira and Catrin Einhorn -- which is the really real reality that #MeToo is up against, not censoring the content of the arts & leisure page.

#MeToo has come about because more women are becoming managers, executives -- leaders -- in our capitalist world. The preposterous fiction that patriarchy sits its fat sweaty ass upon -- that father knows best -- had to come tumbling down sooner or later. Let's hope that #MeToo doesn't prematurely disappear because of a drift to puritanical censorship. Let's hope it's given enough time to trickle down to the shop floor and the construction site.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

The Rohingya and the U.S. Pivot to Asia

"How the Rohingya Escaped" tops the online edition of The New York Times this morning. It is a marvel of multimedia storytelling. The Times has pulled out all the stops since late last summer documenting the purge of the Rohingya, a Muslim-majority people, from Rakhine State, Myanmar. The Myanmar military is said to be engaged in genocide. 

All the familiar stories of babies brutally murdered and women gang raped have been given prominent placement in the Western media.

The volume of stories should give a seasoned news consumer pause; after all, there are numerous hot spots around the globe where ethnic cleansing goes almost without mention. Then there is the emphasis on violent rape and baby murder. Combine those two together and you are usually talking about propaganda meant to alter geopolitical boundaries. Think Kosovo and Iraq.

My guess is that it is part of the U.S. pivot to Asia.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Status Quo Election in Catalonia

From Raphael Minder's "Catalonia Election Gives Separatists New Lift," which highlights the failure of conservative prime minister Mariano Rajoy:
The three main separatist parties won 70 of the 135 seats in the Catalan Parliament, official results showed. Over all, the separatists won only about 47 percent of the votes, according to the preliminary results, but they benefited from a voting system that favors their dominance in rural areas.
Their victory by no means assures success. The separatists are a fractious group, and they have already struggled in the past to agree on tactics and strategy. In recent weeks, their disagreements have become more profound, after their failed independence push in October.
The separatist parties may now find themselves facing a difficult round of negotiations to decide who should lead Catalonia’s government and how to put their secessionist project back on track.
The leaders of the two main separatist parties campaigned from outside Catalonia — one from prison in Madrid and the other from a self-imposed exile in Belgium — and both face prosecution for rebellion after a botched attempt to flout Spain’s Constitution and declare unilateral independence.
Yet their sense of vindication at the outcome was undisguised.
Speaking from Brussels around midnight, Carles Puigdemont, the former leader of Catalonia who was removed by Mr. Rajoy, said Thursday’s record turnout of about 83 percent had produced “an indisputable result” in favor of the separatists.
[snip]
Mr. Rajoy’s Popular Party earned just three seats and ended up last among the main unionist parties. It was the biggest loser of the night.
Instead, most unionist votes went to Ciudadanos, a rival party on which Mr. Rajoy already depends to keep his minority government alive in Madrid. The advance of Ciudadanos will make it the largest party in the next Catalan Parliament.
Inés Arrimadas, the leading candidate of Ciudadanos, said her party’s win, coupled with the slight weakening in support for the separatist parties, confirmed that the independence movement “doesn’t represent a future for all Catalans.”
“The nationalist parties can never again speak in the name of all Catalans,” she added.
Analysts saw potential losers and pitfalls all around, however, given the narrowness of the separatist victory and the political gulf it indicated in both Catalonia and the country.
The election outcome was “another unwanted result of years of inaction” by Mr. Rajoy in Catalonia, said Jordi Sevilla, a former Socialist minister.
Mr. Sevilla forecast that Catalonia could require another election because of infighting among the separatist parties, while Mr. Rajoy would be forced into an early national election following his failure to solve the Catalan conflict.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Catalan Elections Today

There are elections in Catalonia today. Scheduled by the national government in Madrid as part of its takeover of Catalonia back in October following an independence vote, there appears to be no consensus regarding the outcome of the vote.

The story by Raphael Minder, "Catalonia Votes Again, This Time in a Gamble to Stall Its Secessionists," unfolds in two parts. First, it establishes that no clear outcome is foreseen, which Minder accomplishes by pulling a quote from El País:
“The result looks very uncertain and even once we know Thursday’s result, I expect more uncertainty rather than clarity,” said Kiko Llaneras, a political data analyst and journalist who published a study on Tuesday for the newspaper El País compiling various recent polls.
Part two of the story puffs Catalonia Socialist leader Miquel Iceta as a potential kingmaker. The pro-independence coalition that had governed Catalonia is not running on a unified ticket in today's election. It's every man for himself. Carles Puigdemont is campaigning in Brussels not Barcelona, frightened that prime minister Mariano Rajoy might toss him in the clink if he sets foot back in his own country. Not a profile in courage.

Elections have the potential of producing surprising results. That's certainly been the case in the last couple of years, though in 2017 the neoliberals can crow about the results of the French presidential and parliamentary elections. Emmanuel Macron is the new tribune of TINA ("There is no alternative"). Now that the prevailing wisdom is that Angela Merkel is damaged goods, Macron is puffed regularly in the mainstream media. Macron, like German SPD leader Martin Schultz, is calling for greater European integration, the very opposite of the mood of the street.

The average working man and woman, regardless of ideologies of left and right, have arrived at a place of critical consciousness, I would argue, that disdains greater centralization of political decision making because they can sense -- thanks to a pattern of decades -- that it leads to their own immiseration.

Unfortunately for Catalan separatists, the ambient disdain for greater political centralization does not cleanly translate to a vote for independence. Independence requires courage, while voting is primarily guided by fear. Catalans are no doubt concerned about being punished if they support independence, and rightly so because you know they will be. Look at North Korea.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

The Beginning of the End of the National Football League

Since the end of August I have had to devote most of my energy to my place of employment. For the most part, since October, with the exception of the Thanksgiving holiday, I have been working six-day weeks. Working six days a weeks, ten hours a day, there's not much time for anything else. My reading dropped off to what I could squeeze into a lunch break; my music listening, to what I could hear on my iPod walking to and from the office.

But through it all I did have the National Football League on Sundays and on Thursday night. If anything, my attention to the league has increased this fall, not because the level of play has been particularly excellent, but because I haven't been able to manage much else.

It has been an interesting season in that the weakness and contradictions of American society are bringing themselves to bear. Trump has targeted players protesting institutional racism and corporate militarism to juice his cracker base. Television ratings continue to slide, with no hope for improvement. Now, the #MeToo moment has arrived. After being accused of abusive behavior by his female employees, Carolina Panthers founding owner Jerry Richardson  has promised to put the franchise on the auction block at the end of the season.

Ken Belson's write-up yesterday, "The N.F.L. Shows Surprising Deference to Jerry Richardson," quantifies the value of a National Football League team:
The coming sale represents a rich opportunity for all involved. N.F.L. teams are among the most valuable in sports, and they rarely change hands. Most are relinquished only when their owners die, such as in 2014, when Ralph Wilson died, prompting the sale of the Buffalo Bills to Terry and Kim Pegula for $1.4 billion. Given the exploding prices paid for sports franchises, the sale might turn into a silver lining for the N.F.L. and its owners, as team values are based partly on recent sales.
[snip]
The sale will most likely provide him and his partners with a windfall. The N.F.L., sports industry financial experts note, brings in significantly more money than the N.B.A. — more than $14 billion this year. Nearly every team is profitable because the teams share equally more than $6 billion in annual television, sponsorship and merchandise revenue. The Panthers play in a far larger, more vibrant region than the Bills, the most recent N.F.L. team to be sold. And the Panthers also have a more favorable stadium lease. Quarterback Cam Newton, one of the league’s biggest stars, led the team to the Super Bowl in 2016.
Forbes, which conducts an annual survey of team values that industry critics claim are imprecise, estimated that the Panthers are now worth $2.3 billion, 11 percent more than in 2016. The team, Forbes said, carries almost no debt and had $102 million in operating income, the ninth most among the league’s 32 franchises.
Even with the ratings drop, the NFL is still the primary vehicle for identity in the United States. My guess though is that this is the beginning of the end. The main reason this season has been so uninspiring is the large number of injuries. You could feel the funereal pall fall over TVland when Aaron Rodgers was knocked out earlier in the year with a broken collarbone. Injuries are not an aberration. They are getting worse as the schedule expands and athletic excellence increases. The Seahawks have been virtually erased because of injuries.

We will have to look for an identity elsewhere.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

There is No Shock and Awe Preemption When It Comes to North Korea

Regarding the possibility of a preemptive U.S. attack on North Korea, my question to anyone advocating such a course of action is -- Why do you think China won't intervene, as it did in 1950, to prop up its ally?

That question is taken up by Oriana Skylar Mastro, a warfare-state academic at Georgetown U., in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs. The title of the article, "Why China Won’t Rescue North Korea: What to Expect If Things Fall Apart," is misleading in that it conjures up images of the Chinese standing back and watching while the Kim regime is bombed into submission by U.S.-South Korean shock and awe.

The conservative professor's article is actually down to earth and reasonable, but not sanguine when it comes to U.S. options. China might not be wedded to the survival of the Kims, but it has been planning for and is ready to secure the nation's nuclear arsenal. A better title of the article would have been: "China Will Not Rescue Kim Jong-un, But It Will Invade North Korea and Secure the Country's Nuclear Arsenal and Territorial Integrity If Things Fall Apart."

That's a sobering message for American Exceptionalists and neoconservatives. Basically it tells us case closed. There is no shock and awe preemption when it comes to North Korea.

Hence David Sanger's article published Sunday, "A Tillerson Slip Offers a Peek Into Secret Planning on North Korea," outlining the Trump administration's pitiful attempts to blunt the impact of professor Mastro's article by having Tillerson claim that the U.S. also has plans to secure North Korea's nuclear devices. Sanger notes that
But the reference to planning for North Korean collapse, while not drawing wide notice, caught the attention of those who have been drawing up military plans for a number of possible scenarios, including American pre-emptive strikes. Asked whether Mr. Tillerson had referred by mistake to entreaties to the Chinese that previous administrations kept secret, Steven Goldstein, the new under secretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs, said it was quite deliberate.
“The secretary reiterated the position he has taken in meetings with Chinese counterparts,” he said. “He would like the U.S. and Chinese military leaders to develop a plan for the safe disposition of North Korea’s nuclear weapons were the regime to collapse.” He added: “While the secretary has never advocated for regime change, we all have an obligation to be prepared for any scenario.”
There is no indication that the Chinese have responded, or that military officials have met — though Beijing would almost certainly keep that secret if it occurred.
According to current and former American officials, the contingency plans to seize North Korea’s nuclear arsenal have grown in complexity in recent years, largely because the North Korean arsenal has grown.
There are competing estimates among American intelligence agencies over how many weapons the North possesses. Most estimates range from 15 to 30 nuclear devices, but the Defense Intelligence Agency, which is responsible for protecting American troops on the Korean Peninsula, projected this year that the number could be in excess of 50.
The North is presumed to have undertaken an elaborate effort to hide the weapons. The result, one senior military official said recently, is that even if dozens of weapons were seized and deactivated, there would be no way to determine whether many more were still hidden away, perhaps under the control of surviving members of Mr. Kim’s military.
In the secret American rehearsals of how to execute a seizure of the North’s weapons — more of which are planned for the first half of next year, officials say — speed is of the essence.
Finding those weapons, landing “render safe” teams to disarm them and airlifting them out of the country would be a difficult enough task in peacetime. But the American planning assumes a three-way scramble to seize both weapons and territory, involving Chinese troops who may find themselves facing off against the United States and its South Korean allies.
“Washington should assume that any Korean conflict involving large-scale U.S. military operations will trigger a significant Chinese military intervention,” Oriana Skylar Mastro, a professor of security studies at Georgetown University, wrote this month in the journal Foreign Affairs, in a provocative article titled “Why China Won’t Rescue North Korea.”
China, she wrote, “will likely attempt to seize control of key terrain, including North Korea’s nuclear sites,” most of which are within 60 miles or so of the Chinese border. Because of geographic advantage, they would probably arrive long before American forces.
In the past, American planning was based on an assumption that China would come to the aid of North Korea, as it did during the Korean War nearly seven decades ago. But Ms. Mastro, who also advises the United States Pacific Command, wrote that today “the Chinese military assume that it would be opposing, not supporting, North Korean troops.”
Her analysis mirrors what is increasingly becoming the dominant thinking among American military planners. That has made the secret discussion that Mr. Tillerson alluded to all the more vital. Curiously, some Chinese academics have begun writing about the need for the United States and China to prepare a joint strategy. Such public airing of the issue would have been banned in Chinese publications even a few years ago.
In other words, the prevailing military-academic opinion is that regime change in North Korea will likely expand Chinese power, as regime change in Iraq has expanded Iranian power.

Nonetheless the Trump administration continues to goad North Korea into some sort of reaction that can be used to justify a U.S. attack. (See Sanger's latest, "U.S. Accuses North Korea of Mounting WannaCry Cyberattack.) Warfare appears to be the only foreign policy of the United States.

Monday, December 18, 2017

#MeToo Tackles Jason Bourne

Don't get me wrong. I am all for letting the #MeToo fires rage for as long as possible. #MeToo offers proof of life in an otherwise moribund plutocratic society that needs to hurry up and disintegrate.

I must say though that I feel some sympathy for Hollywood leading man Matt Damon (a.k.a., Jason Bourne, and earlier in his career, "Good Will Hunting"). Damon, a thinking man, had the temerity to question #MeToo's conflation of an ass slap with pedophilia, which set off a row online, with his Good Will Hunting costar and former girlfriend Minnie Driver telling The Guardian that men “simply cannot understand what abuse is like on a daily level.”

Patrick Martin of the World Socialist Web Site summarizes in "More sexual harassment allegations hit congressmen, media and entertainment figures":
Actor Matt Damon drew fire for an interview with ABC in which he sought to differentiate between the conduct of Senator Franken and the comedian Louis C. K. and more serious allegations. “There’s a spectrum of behavior,” he said. “There’s a difference between, you know, patting someone on the butt and rape or child molestation, right?”
“You have rape and child molestation,” he continued. “That’s criminal behavior, and it needs to be dealt with that way. The other stuff is just kind of shameful and gross.”
For these comments, Damon has been denounced by some of the high-profile advocates of the sex witch hunt in Hollywood, including Alyssa Milano and Damon’s former costar in Good Will Hunting, Minnie Driver. Milano wrote on Twitter that Damon’s reference to a “spectrum of behavior” was wrong. These were “different stages of cancer. Some more treatable than others. But it’s still cancer.”
Driver is on thin ice when she says that men cannot fathom daily abuse. Aren't men also the victims of sexual abuse? Weren't the victims of Kevin Spacey and James Levine young men?

#MeToo should avoid gender Manichaeism and keep its eye on the prize, a radical leveling. Most of these #MeToo stories are about abuse of power; most happen to be about men because it is still "a man's world." Men -- men with lots of money -- are in control.

My last job was working with and for young women. In the spring of 2016 I noted on this page that
Women are definitely on the ascent. And let me tell you, they are not particularly gracious to a brother on his way down. Women feel a lot of pent up disdain and resentment, if not outright hatred and anger, towards men. "Loathing" might be the best term. I can bear witness as the only man at many a behind-closed-doors staff meeting.
Cry no tears for men though. We deserve every bit of bad news coming our way. There will be no Donald Trump helicopter rescue touching down in a green field to lift us off to safety as the boreal forest burns all around. No, it is all hellfire and sinks of sulfurous acid for us.
A good reason to let the #MeToo fires burn is that in the light produced Russiagate is exposed for what it is -- a ridiculous piece of deep state drivel (see the latest Robert Parry summary, "Protecting the Shaky Russia-gate Narrative"). #MeToo has coherence -- abuse of power -- and a string of journalistic delicacies -- the details that accompany predatory sexual behavior -- followed by results -- no more shit-sniffing Charlie Rose on PBS or CBS. Russiagate has none of the above..

Thursday, December 14, 2017

The #MeToo "Great Awakening" Could Do the Trick for the Dems

Necessary reading this morning is Thomas Edsall's "The Politics of #HimToo":
Since the first week of October, when The Times wrote about Harvey Weinstein’s pattern of sexual abuse, the floodwaters have been rising. At least 51 prominent men have been accused of sexual misconduct, ranging from groping to rape. The accused — many of them abruptly removed from their positions — run the ideological and partisan gamut from Garrison Keillor to Leon Wieseltier to John Conyers to Matt Lauer to James Levine to Trent Franks to Al Franken to Charlie Rose and on and on, including, most recently, Mario Batali and Russell Simmons.
For Democrats, who have struggled to find traction in their battles with the administration, the explosion of allegations has created an opening to put the focus on Trump — a development greatly enhanced by the Moore debacle.
Among Democrats, Gillibrand stands out as the politician who first claimed ownership of the issue, and she is seen by many analysts and commentators as having moved into the front ranks of potential presidential candidates. But what Gillibrand started has become a broader movement encompassing almost the entire Democratic Senate caucus.
After initiating the call on Franken to resign his seat, Gillibrand swiftly received remarkably strong support from her colleagues: 32 fellow Democratic senators and the two independent senators who caucus with the Democrats. There seemed to be an emerging consensus with a basic chess tactic: Sometimes you are required to sacrifice a pawn to checkmate the king.
In other words, Democrats smell blood, Trump’s blood.
Gillibrand now says that Bill Clinton, one of her most steadfast supporters, should have resigned the presidency after his affair with Monica Lewinsky was revealed, and on Monday Gillibrand told CNN that Trump should leave office in the face of “very credible allegations of misconduct and criminal activity.”
“I think when we start having to talk about the differences between sexual assault and sexual harassment and unwanted groping, you are having the wrong conversation,” Gillibrand asserted at a news conference on Dec. 6. “You need to draw a line in the sand and say none of it is O.K. None of it is acceptable.”
Gillibrand continued:
"We, as elected leaders, should absolutely be held to a higher standard, not a lower standard, and we should fundamentally be valuing women, and that is where this debate has to go."
On Wednesday, Trump did Gillibrand a favor, tweeting:
"Lightweight Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a total flunky for Chuck Schumer and someone who would come to my office “begging” for campaign contributions not so long ago (and would do anything for them), is now in the ring fighting against Trump. Very disloyal to Bill & Crooked-USED!"
USA Today, a publication known for the moderation and balance of its commentary, promptly editorialized:
"A president who would all but call Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand a whore is not fit to clean the toilets in the Barack Obama Presidential Library or to shine the shoes of George W. Bush."
Edsall then goes on to parse the #MeToo moment with quotes from academics and political professionals. Edsall hedges on any prediction regarding the 2018 midterms, saying the Democrats are woefully hamstrung by gerrymandering, which is true. Edsall also seems to believe that GOP women have not been swept up in #MeToo.

But then how to explain the elections in Virginia and Alabama? Blacks are being apportioned a hefty role in both these Democratic victories. My thinking though is that the fictional gender gap that I accepted as a guarantee of Hillary's victory last fall is now becoming real. The suburban Republican who the Hillary campaign courted is finally coming around thanks to the unceasing piggishness of our POTUS.

#MeToo is a stand-in for the Great Awakenings of the colonial and early republic past. Our culture, largely static in its broad contours since the dawning of the neoliberal age in the 1970s, is finding ways to cleanse itself. Occupy was a brief and ultimately aborted attempt. But #MeToo appears to have all the chemical ingredients to burn indefinitely.

Monday, November 27, 2017

The Neoliberal Center Burns

You have to tip your hat to the The New York Times. Though it is one of the principal outlets for the New Cold War with Russia, in its Saturday edition it published a shattering rebuttal from one of its Moscow-based reporters.

"Why Putin’s Foes Deplore U.S. Fixation on Election Meddling" by Andrew Higgins is an assessment of the U.S. media's Russophobia from the perspective of pro-Western Russian intellectuals:
Ultimately, they say, Americans are using Russia as a scapegoat to explain the deep political discord in the United States. That has left many westward-leaning Russians, who have long looked to America for their ideals, in bitter disappointment that the United States seems to be mimicking some of their own country’s least appealing traits.
The hunt for a hidden Russian hand behind President Trump’s election victory has caused particular disquiet among liberal-minded Russian journalists.
“The image of Putin’s Russia constructed by Western and, above all, American media outlets over the past 18 months shocks even the most anti-Putin reader in Russia,” Oleg V. Kashin, a journalist critical of the Kremlin, wrote last week in Republic, a Russian news site. He complained that the American media has consistently misconstrued the way Russia works, presenting marginal opportunists and self-interested businessmen with no real link to the Kremlin as state-controlled agents working on orders from Mr. Putin.
For Ivan I. Kurilla, a professor of history and an America specialist at the European University at St. Petersburg, a bastion of liberal thinking, Russia’s prominent and almost entirely negative role on America’s political stage since the November election reprises a phenomenon first seen in the late 1800s.
Americans use Russia each time they feel their own identity in crisis,” said Mr. Kurilla, the author of a new book on the history of Russian-American relations, “Frenemies.”
But don't expect from "the newspaper of record" a reduction in the number of stories devoted to Russian troll farms and Russian hackers disseminating fake news "weaponized" to destroy Western democracy. On the same day Higgins' story ran, The Times published Jason Horowitz's "Italy, Bracing for Electoral Season of Fake News, Demands Facebook’s Help":
In a global atmosphere already thick with suspicion of Russian meddling in elections in the United States, France and Germany, as well as in the British referendum to leave the European Union and the Catalan independence movement in Spain, many analysts consider Italy to be the weak link in an increasingly vulnerable European Union.
No one in Italy is more worried than the governing Democratic Party. In recent days, its members have made an orchestrated attempt to focus the attention of the country — and of powerful social media platforms like Facebook — on a misinformation campaign that they believe is devised to damage one of the last major center-left governments standing in Europe.
Mr. Renzi, a wily political operator who partly blames online misinformation campaigns and fake news for the failure of a referendum that forced his resignation in December, is not only seeking to protect himself, but also to go on the offensive.
(Before being dispatched to Rome, Horowitz held the "Get Bernie!" portfolio during the 2016 presidential election campaign.)

The template is a simple one. Any organized electoral challenge to the neoliberal center is tarred as a Russian psyops crafted personally by the evil Putin. The template is provided by U.S. intelligence agencies and dutifully applied by the corporate media. Brexit, Trump, Geert Wilders, Le Pen, AfD, Catalan independence, Italy's Five Star Movement -- every bogeyman tracks back to Moscow.

It's infantile and superficial. But it is also a strong indication how dead-ended the "Washington Consensus" has become. When you're desperate and trying to make it day to day, week to week, month to month, the tendency apparently is to revert to old patterns.

That's why I was surprised that in the run up to Germany's September elections there was no effort to inflate the online Russian bogeyman. This was obviously a failure of Western intelligence. No one predicted the precipitous drop off in support for the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats. There were predictions that Alternative for Germany might reach the Bundestag, but not that Merkel would have to rely on a minority government. We'll see if Martin Schultz eats his words and ends up resuscitating the grand coalition. In any event, rest assured that if new elections are called, this time around, there will be plenty of Russophobia.

An interesting development in the disintegration of the neoliberal center is the recent hysteria over sexual harassment. Male animality is exposed. Celebrity scalps are piling up. Where and when it will end is hard to gauge. It could go on for a long time. I welcome it. Because it promises to burn, baby, burn.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Manson

Charles Manson died yesterday. For The New York Times write-up, see "Charles Manson Dies at 83; Wild-Eyed Leader of a Murderous Crew" by Margalit Fox. It is a reaffirmation of the conventional wisdom regarding the Manson Family, which isn't necessarily that wide of the mark; it just doesn't delve into how a jailbird like Manson was able to swindle his way to the infamy he achieved.

The best book I've read on Manson is one of first, if not the first, Ed Sanders' The Family: The Story of Charles Manson's Dune Buggy Attack Battalion (1971). I include here a review I wrote for my public library:
The Tate-LaBianca murders by the Manson Family in August 1969, along with the sensational trial the following year, are usually credited, along with debacle at Altamont in December 1969, with destroying the peace-&-love era of the Hippie. In THE FAMILY, written in exuberant style by poet, activist and Fugs founder Ed Sanders, you have an amazing document that precedes HELTER SKELTER, the blockbuster bestseller by Vincent Bugliosi and Curt Gentry, by a good three years. What Sanders accomplishes in THE FAMILY is to convey just how crazy the lunatic fringe of the 1960s were: Satan worship, human sacrifice, biker gangs, marathon orgies, the list could on and on. Manson does not come off well. A lifelong criminal who did a lengthy stint at McNeil Island prison where he picked up some handy mind-control tricks, Manson was a megalomaniac misogynist and racist who ordered others to do his killing. There are some fascinating tangents to THE FAMILY. One that Sanders explores is that Manson sent his minions to the Polanski household primed for slaughter thinking that Sharon Tate would not be there. (Her car wasn't there; it was in the shop that night.) In other words, the usual explanation, that Manson was looking for payback at rock producer and Doris Day offspring Terry Melcher's expense for not making him a superstar, is not credible. Manson knew that Melcher no longer lived on 10050 Cielo Drive. Sanders thinks that the Polanski home was chosen as the scene for slaughter because one of Charlie's girls, Linda Kasabian (the member of The Family who ended up ratting everyone out to prosecutors), had been burned by Polanski buddy Wojciech Frykowski (Abigail Folger's lover) on a MDA drug buy. Frykowksi and Folger were house sitting for the Polanskis while they were in England.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Saudis Have Painted Themselves into a Corner

Lebanon's prime minister, Saad Hariri, has been under house arrest in Saudi Arabia for a week. He went on television yesterday and vowed that he would return to Lebanon "in two or three days.”

I doubt it. The Saudis have fucked up again. They can't allow Hariri to return to Lebanon because once there his party, Future Movement, would disavow his resignation; plus, if Hariri returns, he will have to explain the reason he provided for fleeing to Saudi Arabia in the first place, that there was an assassination plot against him.

No, the Saudis obviously didn't game this one out. The Lebanese aren't buying any of it, and Hezbollah looks better than before Hariri was made captive.

Faced with a problem of his own creation, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman will most likely do what he has always done -- make the problem bigger.

The emergency Arab League meeting announced for November 19 will be an occasion for the Saudis to make further demands of Iran and Hezbollah.

The Saudis want a wider war, the idea being that in a direct conflict with Iran, not just a proxy conflict, the United States will have to join the Kingdom.

All the military celebrations during Sunday's NFL games, part of a Veterans Day salute, were accompanied by a barely perceptible but nonetheless present queasiness. The next U.S. war will be a game changer and not in a way that bolsters American hegemony.

People sense it. The tail is wagging the dog.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Medicaid Expansion in Maine Big Win for Democrats

Much is being made about the defeat of Ed Gillespie in the Virginia governor's race:
Ralph Northam, 1,405,097, 53.9%
Ed Gillespie, 1,172,533, 45.0%
But I think the most hopeful sign of election night was Maine's popular vote to expand Medicaid. (See Abby Goodnough's "Maine Voters Approve Medicaid Expansion, a Rebuke of Gov. LePage.")

Repeated in other states whose governors refused the Obamacare Medicaid expansion, this will be a progressive voter magnet in 2018. With a modest amount of competence, the Democratic Party should retake the U.S. House of Representatives next year.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Iran War Fever

From Bill Van Aucken's "Lebanese crisis bound up with war drive against Iran":
What has changed is the ratcheting up of the campaign against Iran waged by Washington in alliance with both Saudi Arabia and Israel. The Trump administration has signaled its willingness to upend the Iranian nuclear agreement, which would place it on path to war with Tehran, while the US Congress last month enacted a new series of sanctions against Hezbollah, including the placing of multimillion-dollar bounties on the heads of two of its officials.
Lebanon, which suffered a civil war that bled the country from 1975 to 1989, is threatened with being turned into a field of battle in the drive by US imperialism to destroy Iran as an impediment to establishing hegemony over the oil-rich Middle East. To this end, the US administration has deliberately sought to fan the flames of sectarian tensions between Sunni and Shia Muslims, with potentially catastrophic implications for Lebanon.
The Israeli regime has made no attempt to conceal its glee over Hariri’s actions. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed the Lebanese prime minister’s resignation and statements in Riyadh as “a wake-up call for the international community to act against Iranian aggression.”
The country’s thuggish Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman went on Twitter to write: “Lebanon=Hezbollah. Hezbollah=Iran. Lebanon=Iran. Iran is dangerous to the world. Saad Hariri has proved that today. Period.”
The Jerusalem Post was even more explicit, stating, “Now, it seems that Hariri has given Israel more legitimacy for a full-scale and uncompromising campaign against Iran and Lebanon, not only Hezbollah, should a war in the north break out.”
It approvingly quoted Yoav Gallant, a member of the security cabinet and former Israeli general, who vowed that should war begin, “Israel will bring Lebanon back to the stone age.”
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah responded on Sunday:
Nasrallah on Sunday played down the risks of conflict between rival camps in Lebanon or with his movement's arch-foe Israel.
"Do not listen to alarmist speeches ... do not worry, there is nothing to worry about," he said.
"We will react responsibly and calmly... we are concerned about the security" of Lebanon, Nasrallah added.
On Israel, he said the Jewish state "will not embark on a war against Lebanon unless it is guaranteed a quick, decisive and inexpensive war".
Van Aucken doesn't mention Saudi threats against Iran for a Houthi missile attack on Riyadh Saturday (see "Saudi-Led Coalition Fighting in Yemen Hints at ‘Act of War’ by Iran"). Iran denies having anything to do with it. Saudi Arabia has announced a complete land, sea and air blockade of Yemen. The humanitarian crisis there can only worsen.

On the purge within the Saudi royal family, David Kirkpatrick reports in "Saudi Crown Prince’s Mass Purge Upends a Longstanding System" that
“It is the coup de grâce of the old system,” said Chas W. Freeman, a former United States ambassador. “Gone. All power has now been concentrated in the hands of Mohammed bin Salman.”
Why the crown prince acted now — whether to eliminate future opposition or perhaps to crush some threat he saw brewing — was not immediately clear.
At 32 years old, he had little experience in government before his father, King Salman, 81, ascended to the throne in 2015, and the prince has demonstrated little patience for the previously staid pace of change in the kingdom.
He has led Saudi Arabia into a protracted military conflict in Yemen and a bitter feud with its Persian Gulf neighbor Qatar. He has taken on a business elite accustomed to state subsidies and profligacy by laying out radical plans to remake the Saudi economy, lessen its dependence on oil and rely instead on foreign investment. And he has squared off against conservatives in the religious establishment with symbolic steps to loosen strict moral codes, including a pending end to the longstanding ban on women driving.
Crown Prince Mohammed’s haste, however, may now come at a price, because the lack of transparency or due process surrounding the anticorruption crackdown is sure to unnerve the same private investors he hopes to attract — including through a planned stock offering of the huge state oil company, Aramco.
[snip]
President Trump on Sunday appeared to give a tacit endorsement of the arrests in a phone call with King Salman. A White House summary of the call contained no references to the arrests, and said Mr. Trump had praised Crown Prince Mohammed for other matters.
Three White House advisers, including the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, returned just days ago from the latest in at least three high-level Trump administration visits to Saudi Arabia this year.
Nearly 24 hours after the arrests were announced, no Saudi authority or spokesman had identified those arrested or the charges against them.
Trump wants war with Iran. Al-Saud wants war with Iran. Israel wants war with Iran. War with Iran is coming. Don't look to the disintegrating Democratic Party to offer a counterweight.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

The Zombie Shall Go Off-Road

Since the end of August I have been confronted with a series of significant demands at work. One of the units of the local went out on strike and was on the picket line for a month before reaching an agreement with the employer. Unions rarely go on strike anymore. There are a variety of reasons for this, none of which are positive for labor, but the bottom line is that strikes are supremely difficult to manage. They are physically exhausting and emotionally taxing.

Once the strike ended, the local's bookkeeper resigned, which put me on the hot seat for taking care of all the finances, a web of a various arcane transactions -- payroll, tax filings, accounts payable and receivable -- electronic and otherwise. Then, if that wasn't enough, the local's general fund was targeted in a string of fraud attempts, which necessitated opening up a case with the local police, establishing a new account, reaching out to employers who remit dues payments electronically, etc.

All in all, a tale of professional woe since August. And there is no end in sight. If anything, things will grow worse as the year end approaches. My brain feels bruised.

I have no time to cogitate on current events. I've been workings Saturdays, and Saturday is my main reading day; so a lot of the grist for my mill has been depleted.

The dynamic remains the same though: The Western-led neoliberal world order is capsizing, and no mainstream political rescue operation is on the horizon. Democratic leaders in the U.S. think they can muddle along and beat Trump in 2020 with a Wall Street candidate; in other words, a redo of 2016.

The problem is a major new war is coming. The U.S.-Saudi jihadist response to the Arab Spring revolt(s) of 2011 has lost its steam. When blocked or defeated, the neoconservative response -- and neoconservative decision making is the only type of decision making that exists in Riyadh and Washington, D.C. these days -- is to make the problem bigger. That's how we should interpret the latest news out of Saudi Arabia.

Will Lebanon be destroyed again? Will Iran be attacked directly? I don't know. But the U.S. is at its limit politically and militarily. Europe will soon have to go its own way. Finally. But can Europe make this transition without cracking up itself? Probably not. Germany, like the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (and the bygone Republic of Vietnam), is organically connected to the U.S. deep state.

This particular path that the West is on has come to end. The zombie must go off-road.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Rajoy Outmaneuvers Puigdemont

Judging from "Catalonia Leader Turns Up in Belgium After Spain Seeks Prosecution," by Raphael Minder, Patrick Kingsley and Milan Schreurer, it appears that the government of Mariano Rajoy has learned from its mistake on October 1. Rather than react with force, the Spanish government has pinned its hopes of solving the problem of independence for Catalonia with elections in December.

This appears to have wrong-footed pro-independence leadership:
Not least, there was the important decision for separatist parties about whether to take part in regional elections called by Madrid or to risk sidelining themselves.
The two main Catalan parties — including Mr. Puigdemont’s Catalan European Democratic Party — said on Monday they would run in the elections, which are scheduled for Dec. 21, although perhaps no longer as part of the coalition that won the most parliamentary seats in 2015.
Germà Bel, a separatist Catalan lawmaker, said Mr. Puigdemont’s possible hopes of running a government from exile was “symbolic.”
“I don’t know of anyone who’s run a government from overseas,” he said. “Even Charles de Gaulle didn’t run a government from overseas.”
But he argued that it would be hard for Mr. Rajoy’s government to maintain control over Catalonia for an extended period.
The decision by pro-independence parties to take part in the December elections meant that they “at least implicitly” accept they are still part of Spain — no small concession.
“This election has been called by the Spanish government under Spanish law — and it will be an election run within the state,” Mr. Bel said.
When it comes to the polls, fear is usually a stronger motivation than hope. That's why I imagine that the pro-independence coalition of Carles Puigdemont will lose its majority in the regional government.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Why Our Dystopia Fatigue Won't Abate Anytime Soon

There is an especially good unsigned editorial in today's NYT. "Insect Armageddon" mentions a recent German study which documents an astonishing 76% reduction in winged insect biomass.

The oceans are dying. Primates are dying. Frogs, bats, honeybees -- what else? Every living thing appears to be dying. No wonder we're growing tired of dystopias. But what else can we imagine in our environment?
There is alarming new evidence that insect populations worldwide are in rapid decline. As Prof. Dave Goulson of the University of Sussex, a co-author of a new insect study, put it, we are “on course for ecological Armageddon” because “if we lose the insects, then everything is going to collapse.”
The study, which tracked flying insects collected in nature preserves across Germany, found that in just 25 years, the total biomass of these insects declined by an astonishing 76 percent. The reasons for the decline are not entirely clear — and only flying insects were collected, so the fate of crawling insects, for example, is not known — but the scientists suspect two main culprits: the use of pesticides and a lack of habitat in surrounding farmland.
This isn’t the first study to indicate that insects are in trouble. The Zoological Society of London warned five years ago that many insect populations worldwide were declining, and a 2014 studypublished in Science magazine documented a steep drop in insect and other invertebrate life worldwide, warning that such “declines will cascade onto ecosystem functioning and human well-being.”
The disappearance of creepy, crawly, buzzing insects doesn’t elicit the kind of emotional response that, say, global warming’s threat to polar bears does. Many may be quick to say, “Good riddance!” But we cannot survive in a world without insects, as they are critical for pollinating our food and are themselves a food source for many fish, birds and reptiles. Insects are also nature’s scavengers and soil aerators.
There are proven steps that could be taken now to help stem this decline. Buffer zones of wildflowers and native plants around single-crop fields can help, as can agricultural practices that respect biodiversity and reduce or eliminate the use of pesticides and herbicides. Our planet’s rapidly disappearing forests, wetlands and grasslands need to be preserved and restored wherever possible. More research is also needed to better understand why, where and what insects are disappearing and how they can be saved. But one thing is already clear: The fate of the world’s insects is inseparable from our own.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Dystopia Fatigue

Since 2009 the primary cultural -- not to be confused with official -- narrative has been dystopian, exemplified by the popularity of all things zombie, such as the eight-season television series The Walking Dead.

But Western civilization is now experiencing dystopia fatigue. The problem, as Naomi Klein perceptively identified in No is Not Enough, is that we have lost the ability to conceptualize utopias. Decades of neoliberal triumphalism -- TINA, "there is no alternative" -- has left us intellectually blinkered.

So right when the neoliberal zombie appears headed for a fall -- Catalonia, Kurdistan, Dixiecrat absorption of the entire GOP, the construction of a Great Firewall in the West -- we are clueless what to do. Maybe Catalans will show us the way.

Which means that the zombie will probably find its feet and stumble on, only to fall again, until its head bursts apart.

Monday, October 23, 2017

New York Times Editorializes on Perpetual War

A New York Times editorial does a drive-by on the U.S. perpetual warfare state in "America’s Forever Wars." The U.S. has troops in almost every country. Military commitments wax but seemingly never wane.

The Times offers up a few critical ingredients for the post-9/11 perpetual warfare state: no draft, a professional military that makes up less than 1% of the general population, abdication of Congressional authority, etc.

The editorial is written with the question -- "How many new military adventures, if any, is the American public prepared to tolerate?" -- forefront. But it is an obvious rhetorical sleight of hand meant to obscure the commitment of the political system -- Republicans and Democrats -- to perpetual war.

Americans voted for the peace candidate in 2008 and 2012 by a landslide, only to see the war machine grow. One, at least last fall, could argue that Trump was the peace candidate in the "Trump vs. Hillary" main event.

But no matter how voters vote, the war machine rumbles on. For The Times to place perpetual war in the lap of the American voter begs the question -- How can we to vote to end this? Who can we vote for who will stop it? Is it time to grab the pitchfork and musket?
So far, Americans seem to accept that these missions and the deployments they require will continue indefinitely. Still, it’s a very real question whether, in addition to endorsing these commitments, which have cost trillions of dollars and many lives over 16 years, they will embrace new entanglements of the sort President Trump has seemed to portend with his rash threats and questionable decisions on North Korea and Iran.
For that reason alone, it’s time to take stock of how broadly American forces are already committed to far-flung regions and to begin thinking hard about how much of that investment is necessary, how long it should continue and whether there is a strategy beyond just killing terrorists. Which Congress, lamentably, has not done. If the public is quiet, that is partly because so few families bear so much of this military burden, and partly because America is not involved in anything comparable to the Vietnam War, when huge American casualties produced sustained public protest. It is also because Congress has spent little time considering such issues in a comprehensive way or debating why all these deployments are needed.
Congress has repeatedly ducked efforts by Senator Tim Kaine, Democrat of Virginia, and others to put the war against the Islamic State, which has broad popular support but no specific congressional authorization, on a firm legal footing. President Trump, like his predecessor, insists that legislation passed in 2001 to authorize the war against Al Qaeda is sufficient. It isn’t. After the Niger tragedy, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker of Tennessee, has agreed to at least hold a hearing on the authorization issue. It is scheduled for Oct. 30.
Andrew Bacevich, a retired Army colonel who lost a son in Iraq and is a critic of military operations, says that “a collective indifference to war has become an emblem of contemporary America.” The idea that Americans could be inured to war and all its horrors is chilling, and it’s a recipe for dangerous decisions with far-reaching ramifications. There are many factors contributing to this trend:
During earlier wars, including Vietnam, the draft put most families at risk of having a loved one go to war, but now America has all-volunteer armed forces. Less than 1 percent of the population now serves in the military, compared with more than 12 percent in World War II. Most people simply do not have a family member in harm’s way.
American casualty rates have been relatively low, especially in more recent years after the bulk of American troops were withdrawn from Afghanistan and Iraq. Also, the United States has shifted to a strategy in which Americans provide air power and intelligence, and train and assist local troops who then do most of the fighting and most of the dying. This year, for instance, 11 American service members died in Afghanistan and 14 in Iraq. By comparison, 6,785 Afghan security force members died in 2016 and 2,531 died in the first five months this year, according to the United States and Afghan governments. Tens of thousands of civilians also perished at the hands of various combatants, including in 2017, but the figures get little publicity. Most Americans tend not to think about them.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Anne Barnard Back on the Clock

Anne Barnard, the NYT's songstress for the jihadi war to destroy Syria, returned to work in October after taking the entire summer off. She's back punching the clock, "As ISIS’ Role in Syria Wanes, Other Conflicts Take the Stage," in time to turn the page on the conflict. Raqqa is under U.S. control in the form of the innocuously labeled but sure to be volatile "civilian city council made up of representative local residents."  ISIS foot soldiers are being bussed to and fro in Iraq and Syria, positioned like chess pieces for future battles.

The United States and its Saudi and Israeli allies need to keep the bogeyman of ISIS alive in order to justify their military presence in Syria and Iraq.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Kirkuk: PUK Sides with Iraq not KDP

Iraq is moving to take back Kirkuk from Kurdish control. Moon of Alabama has a good rundown, "Iraq - The End Of The Kurdish Independence Project." David Zucchino's report in The New York Times, "Iraqi Forces Said to Seize Oil Sites and Airport Outside Kirkuk," provides illuminating detail of the split between Masoud Barzani's Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the rival Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) that is unfolding during the battle to retake Kirkuk:
Military commanders in Baghdad said their troops had taken control of an industrial district on the western edge of Kirkuk, as well as a power plant and refinery adjacent to the oil fields outside the city. The military command also said government forces had secured control of a military airport west of the city.
Among the sites the Iraqi forces claimed was a military base known as K-1, northwest of Kirkuk. Iraqi officers interviewed near the base on Sunday said that American forces had used the facility in the past.
K-1 was the main military base in Kirkuk Province for Iraqi government troops when they abandoned their weapons and fled an assault by Islamic State militants.
On Monday, a Kurdish commander from the governing political party in the Kurdistan region said his forces had mounted a counterattack about 15 miles west of the city. He said reinforcements with “sophisticated weapons” had arrived to support Kurdish fighters in the area.
“They are preparing to liberate the area” from Iraqi forces, said the commander, Gen. Mohammed Raiger.
A statement released by the Kurdistan Region Security Council said pesh merga fighters had destroyed five American-supplied Humvees used by Iraqi forces, and would continue to resist them.
“This was unprovoked attack,” the statement said of the government military advance. The council is controlled by the Kurdistan Democratic Party, or K.D.P., led by Mr. Barzani, the region’s president.
But a leader of a rival Kurdish party, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, or P.U.K., said the party had agreed to vacate its military positions and hand them over to government forces early Monday morning. Wista Raool, commander of P.U.K. pesh merga forces south of Kirkuk, said the party sought to return the oil fields to the central government.
Mr. Raool accused Mr. Barzani and his party of “stealing” the oil from the central government. Many members of the P.U.K., which maintains its own pesh merga force, opposed the referendum vote because it was spearheaded by Mr. Barzani.
Iraqi military commanders said fighting broke out early Monday between advancing government forces and pesh merga fighters from Mr. Barzani’s faction, just as the P.U.K. forces were handing over their positions. The commanders spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to journalists.
Thoughtful commentary on Kurdish independence included Masoud Barzani's political survival (he is acting as president of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) after his term has expired) as a significant motive for holding the referendum. The PUK reluctantly supported the independence referendum but are not going to fight a war over it.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Catalan Non-Independence + Punishing Dissent in the NFL and the Death of Broadcast TV

There will be no independence for Catalonia this go-round. Carles Puigdemont's obfuscating statement in the Catalan parliament yesterday at least makes that clear (see "In Catalonia, a Declaration of Independence From Spain (Sort of)" by Raphael Minder and Patrick Kingsley):
“I assume the mandate of the people for Catalonia to become an independent state in the shape of a republic,” Mr. Puigdemont said, before adding, seconds later, that he and his government would “ask Parliament to suspend the effects of the declaration of independence so that in the coming weeks we can undertake a dialogue.”
Momentum for independence has been lost. Support on the street will evaporate. Madrid will not likely make the same mistake twice and crack down hard again.

Yes, Puigdemont was working with a fractious coalition. But in the end I would guess that it was the corporations moving their headquarters out of Catalonia that caused right-wing pro-independence lawmakers to think twice. Chalk up another win for neoliberalism.

Talk about an about-face. NFL owners who linked arms in solidarity with players on the field three weekends ago are now backing Trump's call to punish players who take a knee or protest in any fashion during the national anthem. Ken Belson summarizes in "Goodell and N.F.L. Owners Break From Players on Anthem Kneeling Fight":
By appearances anyway, the N.F.L. was one big family two weeks ago. After President Trump urged owners to fire players who did not stand for the national anthem, everyone from Commissioner Roger Goodell to the 32 team owners to the players and coaches locked arms, in many cases literally, in defiance and unity.
That unanimity has all but vanished. As the president continues to harangue the league over the anthem, and a number of fans across the country express displeasure with the handful of players who continue to kneel during the anthem, a growing pool of owners is trying to defuse the politically charged issue, even if it means confronting the players the owners previously sympathized with.
One of the most powerful owners in the league is now speaking openly about benching players who do not stand for the anthem, and Goodell, who said previously that players had a right to voice their opinions, is siding with the owners opposed to letting the players demonstrate. The owners plan to meet next week to establish what to do about the anthem gestures.
“Like many of our fans, we believe that everyone should stand for the national anthem,” Goodell said in a letter sent to owners on Tuesday.
He added that the league cared about the issues the players are trying to highlight, including social injustice and police brutality toward African-Americans. But he said that “the controversy over the anthem is a barrier to having honest conversations and making real progress on the underlying issues.” [!]
The owners' and the League's about-face is overtly political and has very little to do with money. Trends adversely impacting viewership don't have anything to do with patriotism. Broadcast television is dying. The NFL has been the beating heart of broadcast television for a long time. It is no wonder that its ratings are in decline.

There was a little retrospective piece last week, part of regular series that The New York Times runs on page two of its front page, about Truman calling on Americans to ration their consumption of meat and eggs to help fight hunger in war-ravaged Europe. It was noteworthy because it was the first televised presidential address. The year was 1944, and, according to Times, there were 10,000 sets in the United States.

Six years later at the outbreak of the Korean War there were 10 million black-&-white TV sets.

In 1968, at the time of the Tet Offensive, there were 100 million TV sets in the U.S., many of which were color.

A half-century later we are undergoing a huge shift in the electronic age as the internet withers broadcast television. This represents a body blow to the prevailing political order because control switches that exist for broadcast television don't exist on the internet.

What we are experiencing is an attempt to apply the same switches on the internet that exist in the legacy media.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Pence's 49ers Protest Reveals Trump's Desperation

VP Mike Pence's protest of 49ers players kneeling during the national anthem of Sunday's game in Indianapolis smacks of desperation. Pence left the football game and tweeted “I left today’s Colts game because @POTUS and I will not dignify any event  that disrespects our soldiers, our Flag, or our National Anthem.” (See "Trump Tells Pence to Leave N.F.L. Game as Players Kneel During Anthem" by Mark Landler, Ken Belson and Maggie Haberman, as well as Dave Zirin's caustic "Mike Pence’s NFL Walkout Was a Cheap, Transparent Stunt.")

Trump is proving to be a one-trick pony. He'll do anything to keep his hard-shell white nationalist base intact. And while his approval ratings are not as low now as they were in August following Charlottesville, he's having to go out of his way to gin up spectacles for the hayseeds, spectacles that are not spectacular. Trump is desperate because he won the presidential election last November based on economic nationalism and a sensible foreign policy, neither of which is particularly discernible in his administration. The right Democrat (Cuomo?) should easily beat him.

Monday, October 9, 2017

"No" is Enough for the Democratic Party

Tory doyen Theresa May has been pronounced dead. Jeremy Corbyn's rejuvenated Labour Party will likely lead the United Kingdom in the not too distant future. Whether a real social democrat can turn the battleship around, at least when it comes to its militaristic foreign policy, is subject to debate.

At least the UK has arrived at a point where the neoliberals have been routed from a mainstream stronghold, the Labour Party. That's not the case in the United States. The neoliberals remain deeply entrenched and in control of the Democratic Party.

Yesterday prominently featured throughout the day in NYT's online edition was Kenneth Vogel's story, "The ‘Resistance,’ Raising Big Money, Upends Liberal Politics." Vogel describes less a sea change and more an exercise in hedging by wealthy Democratic donors as they distribute money to big post-Trumpocalypse groups like Indivisible:
Perhaps no group epitomizes the differences between the legacy left and the grass-roots resistance like Indivisible. Started as a Google document detailing techniques for opposing the Republican agenda under Mr. Trump, the group now has a mostly Washington-based staff of about 40 people, with more than 6,000 volunteer chapters across the country. The national Indivisible hub, which consists of a pair of nonprofit groups, has raised nearly $6 million since its start, primarily through small-dollar donations made through its website.
Yet Indivisible has also received funding from the tech entrepreneur Reid Hoffman, as well as foundations or coalitions tied to Democracy Alliance donors, including the San Francisco mortgage billionaire Herbert Sandler, the New York real estate heiress Patricia Bauman and the oil heiress Leah Hunt-Hendrix.
And an advocacy group funded by the billionaire hedge fund manager George Soros, a founding member of the Democracy Alliance and one of the most influential donors on the left, is considering a donation in the low six figures to Indivisible. Mr. Soros has already donated to a host of nonprofit groups playing key roles in the anti-Trump movement, including the Center for Community Change, Color of Change and Local Progress.
Indivisible would “gladly” accept a check from Mr. Soros or his foundation, said an official with the group, Sarah Dohl. But, she added, the group is committed to ensuring that money from major donors does not become a majority of the group’s revenue “because we want to maintain our independence both from the funders and from the party.”
I'm sure Soros et al. want to fund Indivisible to get at its list of activists. There was a political awakening after the Trumpocalypse that didn't always reach establishment groups like the Clintonista Center for American Progress (CAP). Also, it is not clear how committed to "No Is Not Enough" that Indivisible is. At the end of the day -- the end of Tuesday, November 3, 2020 -- "No Trump" might be enough.

At the moment it is this calculation -- that a neoliberal Democratic establishment can harness enough of the disenchantment with Trump without having to yield to social democratic demands (Medicare for all, free college tuition) to win in 2020 -- which is preventing the kind of overhaul of the party which Corbyn and Momentum have achieved in the UK.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Either Violence or Servility: Martial Law Coming to Catalonia

Any hope that Mariano Rajoy would pursue a softer response to Catalan efforts to achieve independence from Spain need to be dispelled. A military attack is planned for Monday. According to World Socialist Web Site's Alex Lantier in "Spain prepares military crackdown in Catalonia":
With Spanish military and police units already being deployed, Madrid has signaled that it is preparing a brutal crackdown in Catalonia.
Spain’s Constitutional Court yesterday said that Monday’s planned session of the Catalan regional parliament, at which it was expected that the separatist parties would make a unilateral declaration of independence, must not take place. Coming after failing in a brutal attempt to halt the October 1 Catalan independence referendum, and with Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy rejecting calls for mediation led by the Podemos party and the union bureaucracy, the move lays the basis for bringing in the army against what is now declared an unconstitutional meeting.
The Constitutional Court acted based on a complaint brought by the Socialist Party of Catalonia (PSC)—the Catalan wing of the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE), which is now working openly with the PP to prepare a military clampdown. Calling the PSC’s complaint “relevant and of general social and economic interest,” the Court ruled that any act decided by the Catalan parliament would infringe the rights of PSC MPs and be “totally void, without the least value or effect. It warned that defying this order could mean arrests and criminal prosecutions.
[snip]
Opening debate on the Catalan crisis at the European Parliament, Frans Timmermans, the first vice president of the EU Commission, unequivocally endorsed Madrid’s use of force against the population of Catalonia. “The regional government of Catalonia has chosen to ignore the law in organizing the referendum of last Sunday,” Timmermans declared, adding: “it is the duty for any government to uphold the law, and this sometimes does require the proportionate use of force.”
Yesterday, Spanish Defense Minister María Dolores de Cospedal made clear that Madrid views an army intervention to be a legitimate response in Catalonia. At a meeting at the School for Higher Defense Studies, she insisted that Spain’s army is tasked with “defending its territorial integrity and constitutional order.” After King Felipe VI declared in a bellicose speech Tuesday that Catalan nationalists had placed themselves outside the law and democracy, Cospedal added, “Everything that is located outside of democracy is a threat to our nation.”
Spanish army units are already providing logistical support to police deployed in Catalonia. And after Catalan regional premier Carles Puigdemont indicated after Sunday’s crackdown that he could declare independence on Monday, a measure that Madrid has stated for months is illegal, political maneuvers by Madrid to seize the Catalan government are underway.
There are also moves underway by the Spanish judiciary to prosecute Catalan judges and Catalan police, the Mossos d’Esquadra, for failing to crack down on voters and demonstrating sympathy for separatists. The head of the Mossos, Josep Lluis Trapero, is to appear today before a court on the unprecedented charge of sedition, facing a 15-year prison sentence.
The courts are also removing legal restrictions to decisions by banks and corporations to move their headquarters away from Catalonia, amid reports that CaixaBank could soon move to Mallorca.
On Thursday, Rajoy also rejected appeals for mediation from Podemos General Secretary Pablo Iglesias and Puigdemont, supported by the Stalinist Workers Commissions (CCOO) and social-democratic General Union of Labor (UGT) union bureaucracies. When Iglesias phoned Rajoy to discuss the plan, Rajoy thanked Iglesias but declared he had no intention of negotiating with anyone who “is blackmailing the state so brutally.”
This was a direct repudiation of the Podemos leader’s comments the previous evening. Iglesias had told reporters, “A group of trusted people should sit down at a table to discuss as a team for dialog. This is what I told the premier of Catalonia and the prime minister of Spain. I spoke to Puigdemont and Rajoy, and they didn’t say no.” Iglesias added that his conversation with Rajoy had been “cordial,” and that Rajoy had “taken note” of the proposal.
While the leader of Podemos held “cordial” talks with Spain’s right-wing prime minister, far-right forces are organizing anti-Catalan protests across Spain and singing hymns of the 1939-1978 fascist regime of Generalissimo Francisco Franco.
Well aware that a new crackdown could provoke explosive social opposition among workers in the entire country, the Spanish press is agitating for moving to a police-state dictatorship. They are discussing the application not only of Article 155 of Spain’s Constitution, a so-called “nuclear option” that suspends Catalan self-government, but Article 116. This suspends basic democratic rights—including freedom of thought and expression, the right to strike, and elections—and allows for press censorship.
After a quarter century of imperialist war and EU austerity since the Stalinist bureaucracy’s dissolution of the Soviet Union, European democracy is at the breaking point. A decade of deep austerity since the 2008 Wall Street crash, which brought Spanish unemployment to 20 percent, has shattered Spain’s economy and discredited its ruling elite. Amid a deep crisis of the post-Francoite regime in Spain, and as the ruling class savagely attacks democratic rights across Europe, the Spanish bourgeoisie is using the Catalan crisis to return to an authoritarian regime.
Madrid’s plans for a bloodbath in Catalonia must be opposed. The critical question is the politically independent, revolutionary mobilization of the working class, not only in Catalonia but in all of Spain and across Europe, in struggle against the threat of civil war and police-state dictatorship and for socialism.
This requires a conscious break with Podemos and the Catalan nationalists, who have worked over the entire past period to confuse and disarm working class opposition, despite explosive social discontent. While masses of youth and workers participated in a one-day protest strike on Tuesday in Catalonia, the CCOO and UGT, close to Podemos and the PSOE respectively, were careful not to mobilize any Spanish workers outside of Catalonia.
The Catalan crisis has in particular exposed the bankruptcy of Podemos. It ceaselessly promoted illusions in the PSOE, which is rapidly moving to endorse a crackdown in Catalonia since the king’s speech, calling on the PSOE to form a joint government to oust Rajoy. Faced with the PSOE’s capitulation to Rajoy, Podemos is now stimulating illusions in the PP itself—even as a bloody military crackdown looms, and Rajoy indicates that he has no intention of negotiating with Barcelona.
As for the Catalan nationalists, who have run a series of austerity governments in Catalonia that smashed several strikes of transit and airport workers, their reactionary plans to develop ties with the EU and negotiate with Madrid the formation of a Catalan capitalist state are in ruins.
Faced with the prospect of a military crackdown, panic is reportedly spreading among Puigdemont’s supporters. Among Catalan nationalists in Barcelona, the city’s daily La Vanguardia wrote, “A strong feeling of vertigo runs through everyone—undermining militant enthusiasms, revolutionary visions, indignation in capital letters, patriotic ardors.” It added that King Felipe VI’s speech “has accentuated this feeling of vertigo. There is fear that the current escalation will end in catastrophe.
Yves Smith writing this morning in "Catalonia Versus Spain: Conflict Escalates as Constitutional Court Nixes Independence Declaration Pre-Emptively" provides some more detail about what to expect Monday:
If the separatists do not back down (and they have signaled they won’t), on Monday, the central government will at some point apply Section 155 to take over the Catalonia government. It will also, either using the Constitutional Court ruling or Section 155, arrest the leaders of the independence movement, declare the secessionist parties to be illegal, and crack down on protestors. The ones who try to interfere in arrests and try to allow passage of legislators to the parliament building will be roughed up the most.
Readers who know the surrounding area in Barcelona are encouraged to pipe up. Supporters are certain to be massed outside the parliament as the vote is set to take place on Monday. It seems likely as before that the local police will stand aside. The Guardia Civil does not seem to believe in finesse. Even so, the number of people who can mass in the square and streets outside the parliament building can’t possibly be as many as wound up clashing with the Guardia Civil during the referendum. In other words, the total number of people injured (and there are guaranteed to be injuries) is likely to be in the dozens, not hundreds. The flip side is that if anyone dies or is very badly hurt, that will push more Catalonians who have been fence-sitting or only weak supporters of independence into a more radical stance.
 At this point it appears that violence or servility are the options for Catalonia.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Poor Choices Ahead for Catalonia

Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont appears to be dithering because his options are limited. It is not even clear that a declaration of independence can clear the parliament of Catalonia. According to Raphael Minder in "Catalonia’s Leader Seeks Talks to Resolve Standoff With Spain":
Even though he did not discuss his independence plans on Wednesday, Mr. Puigdemont is still expected to submit the results of last Sunday’s referendum — which he said approved independence overwhelmingly — for a vote by the region’s Parliament, in which separatist lawmakers have a fragile majority, making passage likely, but not certain. 
Spain’s government, with the support of Spanish courts, had declared Catalonia’s referendum illegal before it was held, and a move by Mr. Puigdemont to push for a declaration of independence would be likely to provoke an even broader crackdown by the central government. 
Madrid has left a large contingent of Spanish national police in Catalonia after they tried to block the referendum, clashing violently with voters who believe that the region, one of Spain’s most prosperous, is entitled to a separate state because of its distinct language, history and culture.
Another violent crackdown by the national government is what Catalonia has to look forward to. Yves Smith makes clear in a post, "Catalonia: Puigdemont Promises Secession in Days as King Censures Officials Acting Outside the Law," from the yesterday that
Catalonia’s separatists don’t appear to have a realistic end-game, particularly in the time frame they have set up. Punching the Catalans is seen as sport in much of the rest of the country, so even if Rajoy made less than optimal use of the political opportunity presented by cracking down on the referendum in an unnecessarily brutal manner, it’s not clear that he has come out a net loser. Reader St. Jacques argued that it had weakened Rajoy’s party, the Popular Party, to the benefit of PSOE, but the King’s denunciation may have limited the damage. If nothing else, the conflict over Catalonia’s future has diverted attention from a corruption scandal.
In the end, Madrid just takes control of the banks in Catalonia. And that's basically it. It's the same thing -- loss of control of the banking system -- that doomed Greece's Syriza.