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.
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.
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. 

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Demands for Massive Censorship of Internet

Internet censorship is already here, but the shape of things to come will almost certainly be much worse, much more Orwellian. The Las Vegas massacre is being used as an excuse to demand that the Internet giants hire thousands of censors (conjuring up images of Terry Gilliam's Brazil) because "fake news" following the attack identified the shooter as a liberal, or, alternatively, an ISIS jihadist. According to Kevin Roose in "After Las Vegas Shooting, Fake News Regains Its Megaphone":
Facebook, Twitter and Google are some of the world’s richest and most ambitious companies, but they still have not shown that they’re willing to bear the costs — or the political risks — of fixing the way misinformation spreads on their platforms. (Some executives appear resolute in avoiding the discussion. In a recent Facebook post, Mark Zuckerberg reasserted the platform’s neutrality, saying that being accused of partisan bias by both sides is “what running a platform for all ideas looks like.”)
The investigations into Russia’s exploitation of social media during the 2016 presidential election will almost certainly continue for months. But dozens of less splashy online misinformation campaigns are happening every day, and they deserve attention, too. Tech companies should act decisively to prevent hoaxes and misinformation from spreading on their platforms, even if it means hiring thousands more moderators or angering some partisan organizations. 
Facebook and Google have spent billions of dollars developing virtual reality systems. They can spare a billion or two to protect actual reality.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Catalan Capitulation?

The reaction to the Catalan independence vote in the mainstream press and European capitals has been to condemn the brutality of the police crackdown while upholding the legal position of Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy (see Steven Erlanger's "For E.U., Catalonia Pits Democratic Rights Against Sovereignty").

For the always-pessimistic take on democratic possibilities, see Yves Smith's "Catalonia Blinks in Secession Staredown." She thinks Catalan leaders are signalling that they are not going to declare independence:
Continued over-the-top use of force could move public sentiment the other way in Catalonia. But the unyielding position of the central government means that Catalonia would need to engage in a sustained campaign, meaning over a period of years, to make it painful enough to Madrid to force it to relent. I’d rather be proven wrong, since Rajoy represents a particularly ugly face of neoliberalism, but the rapid backpedaling by the separatists says they know they don’t have enough support among the public to go toe to toe with Madrid.
I was under the impression that Puigdemont, because of the police crackdown, had a rare opportunity to act. But Smith sees sign of wavering. And Smith's track record of cynical predictions is excellent.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Big Win for Catalan Independence

The independence referendum yesterday in Catalonia was a success. The Catalan government announced that over 90 percent of almost 2.3 millions voters supported independence, this despite the mobilization of the Guardia Civil by the conservative prime minister Mariano Rajoy. Images beamed across the globe showed peaceful citizens attempting to vote being met by black-clad security officers in riot gear administering blows with truncheons and firing rubber bullets.

The old slogan from the streets during the WTO ministerial in Seattle came back to me -- "This is what democracy looks like!" It's a bad day for the Washington-Brussels consensus when Telesur can publish a headline like "Maduro to Spanish President Rajoy: Who's the Dictator Now?" and when The New York Times publishes within the first six paragraphs of its story ("Catalonia’s Independence Vote Descends Into Chaos and Clashes," Raphael Minder and Ellen Barry) that more than 750 people were injured in the crackdown.

Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont is looking for the European Union to condemn the violence, according to this morning's story by Raphael Minder, "Catalonia Leaders Seek to Make Independence Referendum Binding":
Mr. Puigdemont is committed to declaring independence, but he is also pressuring the international community to mediate in the conflict and to condemn the Madrid-ordered police clampdown.
“The European Union cannot now continue to look the other side,” Mr. Puigdemont said around midnight Sunday, although the European bloc has shown no sign so far that it was willing to support the separatist movement.
In a statement, the European Commission — the executive arm of the bloc — called for “unity and stability,” but it showed no sign that it would reverse its position and intervene on behalf of supporters of independence.
The commission described the dispute as “an internal matter for Spain,” and reiterated its warning that an independent Catalonia would not be part of the European Union.
Puigdemont will wait in vain for Brussels to say a cross word about Rajoy's crackdown. I can't help but note the contrast between Iraq and Spain. What would have happened if Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi had sent security forces into Kirkuk -- a city not part of the Kurdistan Regional Government, but one included in Masoud Barzani's independence referendum nonetheless -- to block the the vote? Almost certainly the European Commission would have criticized the use of violence, even though the Kurds illegally occupy the city and siphon off it's oil wealth.

What now? Puigdemont will declare independence in the next two days. Rajoy, joined by the feckless Socialists, will counter that the declaration is meaningless since the referendum was fraudulent -- unverified, illegal, its list of registered voters based on a contested census.

But with the number of injuries Catalans sustained, they will be united, at least in the near term, in the defense of their independence.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Sistani Says No to Kurdish Independence

The spiritual leader of Iraq's Shiite population, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has weighed in on Masoud Barzani's quixotic independence gambit for Iraqi Kurdistan. As reported this afternoon in the Washington Post by Mustafa Salim, Aaso Ameen Schwan and Tamer El-Ghobashy, "Iraq bans flights to Kurdish region as rift grows over independence bid":
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s tough reaction to the Kurdish ballot received a boost from the country’s highest Shiite religious authority, the influential Ayatollah Ali Sistani. In a sign of the growing anxiety in Iraq’s power centers over the vote, Sistani’s representative used his weekly Friday sermon to criticize the referendum as destabilizing to both Arabs and Kurds, arguing that it invites international meddling in Iraq’s affairs.
“I call on the government to consider the Kurds’ constitutional rights in their measures,” Sistani’s representative said, sounding a conciliatory tone. At the same time, Sistani rejected any challenge to Iraq’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Sistani has not appeared in public in several years, but he wields considerable influence in Iraq’s politics. An edict he issued in 2014 urging Shiites to take up arms in defense of Baghdad and southern Iraq during an Islamic State onslaught is largely credited with mustering a force strong enough to stem the extremist group’s blitz in the country.
As far as I can tell, Ayatollah Sistani's political instincts are close to infallible. If he says no to Kurdish independence, chances are an independent Iraqi Kurdistan is not going to happen.

Neoliberal Reboot Crashes

Until June, 2017 looked to be the year that the zombie neoliberal consensus got its mojo working again. In the Netherlands, the bogeyman ultra-nationalist Geert Wilders was beaten back at the polls; then, a couple months later, neoliberal hosannas filled the pages of the Western prestige press as Emmanuel Macron and his upstart En Marche! party dominated French elections.

It looked as if the neoliberal ruling elite had put the dark days of 2016 -- Brexit and the Trumpocalypse -- in the rear-view mirror. Then in June the Brits once again deposited a turd in the neoliberal punch bowl in the form of a surprisingly virile showing by the Corbynist Labour Party. Tory prime minister Theresa May had called early elections with the intention of dealing a death blow to Labour, and the outcome turned out to be the opposite of what was anticipated.

Now, this past week, the legacy media once again has been processing a shock to its neoliberal sensibilities. Merkel, the beloved monarch of the zombie neoliberal world order, and her Christian Democrats performed, much like May's Conservatives in June, so poorly that they now are forced to attempt to govern in coalition with the Free Democratic Party.

This is important because the Free Democrats are opposed to the type of further European integration espoused by uber-neoliberals like Macron. In a speech on Tuesday -- obviously meant to dovetail with the Merkel landslide that failed to appear -- Macron called for a United States of  Europe, the long-held Sweet Beulah Land of neoliberals. As Steven Erlanger explains this morning in "Emmanuel Macron’s Lofty Vision for Europe Gets Mixed Reviews":
Rather than retrenchment, [Macron] sees a revived European Union as the best antidote to increasing nationalism, populism and Euroskepticism from the far right and far left, as evidenced even in core bloc countries like France and Germany.
The European Union, he said, should embrace a joint budget for those using the euro — “a real budget at the heart of Europe,” he said; construct a shared military force; and harmonize taxes and the minimum wage to stay globally relevant.
He wants a common European asylum agency and border police, a eurozone finance minister responsible to the European Parliament and a European Monetary Fund to aid member states in budget trouble.
The problem for the neoliberals is that they have been gulled by there own propaganda. True, Wilders didn't win the Dutch elections back in March, but neither did the established parties of the neoliberal center. They lost seats. Same thing in the French elections this past spring, and again this month in German.

The neoliberal mainstream organs are bleeding out. May is wobbly, ready to fall. Merkel is weakened. And Macron, as Pauline Bock reports in the New Statesman, "'The slackers have taken to the streets!': Macron’s labour reforms split France," has an approval rating below Trump:
The labour reforms are the first real test for Macron, whose approval ratings have collapsed from 66 per cent after his election in May to 30 per cent in early September. This followed Macron’s decision to reduce housing aid and to push through the new labour law via government rulings, without a vote, despite his party’s parliamentary majority.
Macron is governing from the hard right. Tax cuts for the wealthy; emergency police powers enshrined into law; anti-labor, etc. The neoliberal reboot has crashed after a scant four months.

And the Catalonia independence referendum is in 48 hours . . . .

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Kurdish Overreach

It is becoming apparent that Masoud Barzani overreached with his independence vote. Without the vote, de facto Kurdish control of the disputed oil-rich city of Kirkuk could have continued indefinitely, including the pipeline to Turkey, as well as the lucrative border crossings with Turkey. With the vote, all of the above is now at risk. Granted, the Iraqis are refusing to negotiate at present; but if they do ever come to the table, there are plenty of demands they can make.

Iraq is set to make good on its threat to close the airspace of the Kurdistan Regional Government. As outlined by David Zucchino in "Iraq Escalates Dispute With Kurds, Threatening Military Action":
Beyond the threats of military action, Iraqi authorities have struggled to come up with any meaningful punishment for the Kurds for carrying out the referendum. But with its move to shut down flights to the landlocked region, Iraq seems to have found a weak point.
Iraqi aviation authorities notified foreign airlines on Wednesday that it would cancel all permits to land and take off from two international airports in the Kurdish region as of Friday afternoon. The action followed an ultimatum by Prime Minister Abadi on Tuesday for Kurdistan to surrender control of its two international airports or face a shutdown of international flights.
The Kurdish Regional Government said Wednesday that it would refuse to hand over the airports. The region’s transportation minister, Mawlud Murad, called the Iraqi ultimatum “political and illegal.” He said the airports were critical to the American-led coalition’s fight against Islamic State militants.
Kurdish officials had planned to send a delegation to Baghdad on Wednesday to discuss the issue, but the offer was rebuffed.
On Wednesday night, Mr. Murad said that the Kurdish government had agreed to hold talks with Iraq about placing Iraqi government observers at its airports.
There was no immediate public response from the Iraqi government, but Mr. Abadi, speaking to Parliament earlier, said Iraq would not negotiate with the Kurds unless they annulled the results of the vote.
He said he had warned the Kurds “of the consequences of the crisis with Kurdistan.”
“The preservation of the security of the citizens of the country is our priority,” he added.
At least six airlines — three Turkish companies, the Lebanese carrier Middle East Airlines, Royal Jordanian and Egypt Air — started notifying passengers on Wednesday that they were canceling regularly scheduled flights from the airports in Erbil and Sulaimaniya.
Baghdad can make good on its threat because the Iraqi civil aviation authority oversees all airports in the country, including the two international airports in the Kurdish region.
The threat to cancel landing and takeoff permits would force international airlines to cancel flights to those airports because insurance risks would be too high, according to Robert W. Mann Jr., a former airline executive who is now an industry consultant.
“The issue turns on which entity controls Kurdish region airspace and airports,” Mr. Mann said. “Unless and until the autonomous region is given that control, Iraq controls and can ban, blockade or embargo air service to airports under its control, much as Qatari airports have been embargoed or blockaded by nearby nations. Faced with such a restriction, most commercial airlines would comply, in part due to warnings by their insurers.”
The Turkish Consulate in Erbil said that Turkish airlines were working to increase their seat capacity in an effort to get all passengers out of the Kurdish areas before the flight ban took effect on Friday afternoon.
Without international flights, getting in or out of Kurdistan would require going through Turkey, Iran, Syria or Iraq, where there are also threats of a blockade.
The Iraqi Parliament urged the government on Wednesday to close off its land border with Kurdistan.
For years, the Kurdish authorities in Erbil have controlled their own borders with Turkey and Syria. Mr. Abadi has demanded that all borders return to full Iraqi central government control by Friday.
I suppose KRG could issue its own flight permits, and the Israelis would likely use them, as would the United States. Right now, with the support of Turkey and Iran, the Iraqi position is too strong for the U.S. If the embargo can be broken, I'm sure the thinking in Foggy Bottom goes, then Baghdad can be forced to negotiate.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

KRG Independence Referendum Continuation of Caliphate's Political Project: Dismemberment of Iraq

You can usually infer what is troubling the Deep State by what is omitted from Foreign Policy's daily Situation Report. This morning there is zero mention of the ongoing story of Monday's independence referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan (there was a brief mention of it yesterday). The results of the referendum supposedly will be announced today. Already officials of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) have leaked to the press that the vote is overwhelmingly "Yes" to independence.

The response from KRG's neighbors has been predictable. Turkey and Iraq are conducting military drills on KRG's northern border. Erdogan threatens war. Iran has banned flights to Iraqi Kurdistan. Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi has demanded the return of the international airports by Friday. Iraq's parliament has asked Abadi to send troops to secure the oil-rich multi-ethnic city of Kirkuk. KRG seized Kirkuk, basically in coordination with ISIS when the jihadis captured Mosul, back in 2014.

Mention of this by David Zucchino, in his story "Iraq Orders Kurdistan to Surrender Its Airports," fails to emphasize the simultaneity of the ISIS-Kurdish blitz:
As the Islamic State rose in northern Iraq in 2014, Kurdish fighters took advantage of the chaos, and in some cases of fleeing Iraqi troops, to expand the Kurdish territory by 40 percent.
We need to interpret the independence referendum as a continuation of the political program of the caliphate. The caliphate was always a GCC project designed to dismember sovereign nations aligned with Iran; an independent Kurdistan, or several independent Kurdish states, accomplishes this.

The U.S. position on the referendum is clearly duplicitous. While the U.S. is officially opposed, one can divine its tacit approval from The New York Times' serially sympathetic coverage of the referendum, captured in a previous Zucchino story, "As Kurds Celebrate Independence Vote, Neighbors Threaten Military Action." The Kurds are presented as victims of Iraqi genocide.

Often the most reliable way to ascertain U.S. policy is look at its organs of propaganda.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Trump's Big NFL Blunder

The Democrats, even with their warmongering and their Wall Street agenda, have polled over 65 million votes in the last three presidential elections. Neither Trump, Romney nor McCain made it to 63 million.

But thanks to gerrymandering and the 200-plus-year-old gift to the slavocracy/plantocracy (Electoral College) Trump won the White House in 2016 by accumulating 304 electoral votes. He accomplished this primarily by flipping the industrial Midwest -- Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio -- as well as Pennsylvania. 

I didn't think it was possible. I thought the Southern Strategy was dead in presidential politics. I thought Obama had killed it; plus, there is the overall demographic trend, summarized in the August Newsweek story, "WHITE NATIONALISTS ARE RIGHT: AMERICA IS BECOMING LESS WHITE":
Nevertheless, under the current racial demographics widely accepted across the U.S., white people have seen signs that their dominance over the general population might be waning. The Census Bureau announced in 2012 that non-Hispanic whites made up a minority of births in the U.S. for the first time. That year, minorities made up 50.4 percent of the nation's infants, in part because of a booming Hispanic population. 
Some demographers have predicted the U.S. will become a majority-minority nation by 2050, with African-Americans, Asians, Hispanics and other minority groups outnumbering the people we call white. 
The shift in the nation's racial demographics have already been stark. In 1965, whites represented 85 percent of the population, with the other 15 percent made up of African-Americans. These days, white people make up just 60 percent of the nation, while Hispanics account for 18 percent and Asians about 6 percent. 
"The forces behind this transformation are a mix of immigration, births and deaths. The United States is more than four decades into what has been, in absolute numbers, the biggest immigration wave in its history–more than 40 million arrivals. Unlike previous waves that were almost entirely from Europe, the modern influx has been dominated by Hispanic and Asian immigrants," the Pew Research Center concluded in 2012. 
But I also believed in an acute public disdain for the progressive charlatanism of Obama and Clinton; my mistake is I thought that there was enough reality to the mythical minivan piloting soccer mom that a TV huckster like Trump wouldn't stand a chance in Keystone State and America's Dairyland suburbs. Of course those were the voters who gave Trump his 'W.'

Now Trump is going all in with the Southern Strategy, which you will recall was Kevin Phillips' plan after the 1968 presidential election for Nixon to co-opt George Wallace voters (blue-collar, lunch-bucket Democrat bigots) for the GOP. 

Trump is going all in by attacking the last refuge of national identity in the United States, the National Football League. He is sowing division by questioning the "Americanism" of players, overwhelming black, who are protesting institutional racism by kneeling or raising a clenched fist during the pre-game performance of the national anthem.

Trump has done this in the belief that it is good politics, that NFL viewership is "way down" because fans are turned off by player activism. By demanding that these players be fired and calling them "sons of bitches," Trump is looking to fluff up his approval ratings.

But Trump has been gulled by "fake news," as Manuela Tobias susses out in a PolitiFact piece published Sunday. The polls which purportedly establish anthem protests as a main reason for people not watching football are a joke:
Trump spokesman Steven Cheung pointed to a Seton Hall Sports Poll that found that 56 percent of 841 respondents cited players not standing for the national anthem as a reason for last year’s ratings drop.
But as CNBC pointed out, the poll asked why other people — rather than respondents — aren't watching football. About half the people polled said they either follow sports "not closely" or "not at all," but coverage of Kaepernick’s kneeling was widely covered by the media.
A similar J.D. Power survey Cheung cited also reported national anthem protests as the main reason NFL fans watched less games last season.
"Among the 12 percent who watch less (sports), 26 percent of them say national anthem protests are to blame, however those respondents reflect only 3 percent of the full, nationwide sample," the researchers wrote.
Various pundits criticized the survey results as negligible, pointing out that for every one person turned off by protests, 10 NFL fans tuned in.
"If a larger share of respondents claimed they watched more NFL, the fact that NFL ratings were actually down last year is good enough reason to discard this survey as meaningless," Patrick Redford wrote in Deadspin.
Like the Seton Hall survey, the reasons for tuning out were offered as a list for respondents to choose from, so people weren’t necessarily offering the anthem protests on their own, and respondents could provide multiple answers.
Paulsen said that NFL rating drops aren’t unprecedented, with similar declines in the ‘80s, ‘90s and the first half of the 2000s.
"It’s only now that people are deciding it’s a political issue, that people are really focusing on it. There’s any number of reasons to believe that what’s happening right now is not necessarily political," Paulsen said, including a loss of interest among younger viewers.
NFL viewership is down, which Tobias' story acknowledges -- eight percent in 2016 (it was double that the first part of the season, but rebounded later) and on pace for an equal drop this year. And Trump is right when he says "Boring games yes," but wrong when he attributes ultra-nationalism as a primary reason for fans tuning out the NFL. Why? The ratings drop has hit other sports as well, and in those sports, like soccer, anthem protests are not an issue.

The foremost reason for the NFL ratings drop is lopsided games. Even when the games are competitive, there is very little consistent action. Why is this?  Money. Owners don't want to see high-priced quarterbacks taking unnecessary risks. The best game I saw on Sunday was Houston-New England because Texans rookie QB Deshaun Watson played with abandon.

As for secondary and tertiary causes of the ratings drop, I think the incessant militarism of NFL telecasts and the deepening knowledge, both popular and scientific, of CTE are bigger reasons than an offended patriotism.

Trump is a shrewd operator. He thinks by fracturing the present-day foundation of American national identity he will make some political hay. Patrick Martin of World Socialist Web Site ("Behind Trump’s attack on the NFL football players") sees Trump producing a "Reichstag fire":
Under conditions of mounting war threats against North Korea; the devastation of Puerto Rico, a US territory, by Hurricane Maria; and the near-collapse of the latest attempt by the Republican-controlled Congress to repeal Obamacare, the US president devoted 12 tweets in 30 hours to the observance of the national anthem at sporting events. No other event warranted such attention.
What took place last weekend arose from a deliberate decision by the president of the United States to weigh in against a long-running campaign of protest against police brutality and violence, especially against African-American youth. Trump sought to provoke as much outrage as possible, particularly among the black athletes, who comprise 75 percent of NFL teams, and in that way arouse his ultra-right and fascistic social base.
Trump does not care that his positions are massively unpopular, or that the players have widespread support. He is not seeking to assemble an electoral or parliamentary majority, but to whip up a lynch-mob atmosphere within a minority of the population, which can be directed towards the violent suppression of any public opposition to the policies of his government, and particularly against opposition to the actions of the police and military.
Trump’s last tweet on Monday morning was perhaps the most brazenly racist, as he hailed the performance of NASCAR race drivers, nearly all white, contrasting the absence of protests at Sunday’s race in New Hampshire to the actions of football players, who protested in large numbers at 15 game sites.
This isn't 1933. Trump isn't the president of the Confederate States of America. Going after the NFL was a big mistake. At this point -- four autumns before the next presidential election -- I think Trump is doomed.

Monday, September 25, 2017

German Elections Bad News for Neoliberals

The consensus in the mainstream press is that Angela Merkel is, in the Age of Trump, the leader of the Western neoliberal world order. Her reelection was a foregone conclusion. Stories in the run up to Sunday's vote usually mentioned -- as an afterthought -- that Germany's far-right party, Alternative for Germany (AfD), would enter parliament, the first ultra-nationalist party to do so since the defeat of the Third Reich, but that it was not much of a concern since its momentum had been zapped by Merkel's shrewd swing to the right on immigration.

Well, that's not how things turned out. Yes, Merkel triumphed, but her Christian Democrats fell significantly short of their performance four years ago, as did their coalition partner Social Democrats; add to this AfD's arrival as the third-largest party in parliament, and what you get is a lot of neoliberal hand-wringing this morning, captured by Stephen Erlanger and Melissa Eddy in "Angela Merkel Makes History in German Vote, but So Does Far Right":
The far-right party, Alternative for Germany, or AfD, got some 13 percent of the vote — nearly three times the 4.7 percent it received in 2013 — a significant showing of voter anger over immigration and inequality as support for the two main parties sagged from four years ago.
Ms. Merkel and her center-right Christian Democrats won, the center held, but it was weakened. The results made clear that far-right populism — and anxieties over security and national identity — were far from dead in Europe.
They also showed that Germany’s mainstream parties were not immune to the same troubles that have afflicted mainstream parties across the Continent, from Italy to France to Britain.
“We expected a better result, that is clear,” Ms. Merkel said Sunday night. “The good thing is that we will definitely lead the next government.” 
Ms. Merkel’s conservative bloc won some 32.9 percent of the vote, sharply down from 41.5 percent in 2013, the early results showed.
The Social Democrats slumped to 20.8 percent, a new postwar low, down from 25.7 percent four years ago.
If the Social Democrats hold to their intention to go into opposition, Ms. Merkel will be faced with an unusually difficult task to form a working coalition. Given the numbers, it would seem that she will have to cobble together her own Christian Democrat-Christian Social Union bloc together with two other parties.
The potential new partners inhabit virtually opposite poles on the political spectrum — the pro-business Free Democrats, who won some 10.4 percent of the vote, and the left-leaning pro-environment Greens, who won about 9 percent.
At the Christian Democrat headquarters, Frank Wexler, a Berliner, called the results “a bit depressing.”
Grand coalitions had allowed the small parties to gain ground, he said. “The main parties are getting smaller,” Mr. Wexler said. To counteract the AfD, he said, “We need to address the issue of strengthening the borders.”
But Mr. Wexler said he was most disturbed by the AfD’s hostility to the European Union. “This is what Germany needs to do — be a strong leader in Europe.”
But Hans Kundnani, an expert on Germany with the German Marshall Fund, said that Ms. Merkel might fail to create the three-party coalition, putting the Social Democrats under great pressure to join another coalition rather than forcing new elections.
To Mr. Kundnani, “the big shock is not the AfD,” but the loss of support for Ms. Merkel’s conservatives and the increasing fragmentation of German political life.
Moon of Alabama sees new elections in two years. Merkel has spent too much time hovering in the center and with this election she has been flanked on the right.

In the latest London Review of Books, Thomas Meany has a strong article, "In the Centre of the Centre," on the state of German politics on the eve of the election. While he didn't predict the result, I think he nails the inherent weakness of Merkel's centrism:
Many leftists and Greens, disillusioned with their own party leaders, have been stunned by Merkel’s modernisation of the CDU and her steadfastness in the first months of the refugee crisis. Too stunned, perhaps, to notice that her trick is to avoid the country’s root problems while treating the symptoms more skilfully than any conservative politician before her has ever managed. The media, meanwhile, unwilling to address the difficulties caused by Germany’s position as the reluctant hegemon of the Continent, or the growing sense of lurking inconsistencies in the gospel of Atlanticism, prefer endless celebration of the leader: the intellectual, strong, patient, grounded, wry, compassionate, tough, reality-grasping, scientific, opera-loving, Bismarckian wunder-Kanzlerin on whom nothing is lost. One of the few things the mainstream press holds against her is that she doesn’t campaign in a way that generates copy; others dislike the way she has so thoroughly depoliticised the country.
AfD's hostility to the European Union and the eurozone is an existential threat to Germany's economic hegemony. As Wolfgang Streek made clear in a piece, "Playing Catch Up," published in May --
With monetary union set up as it is, and the path to political union foreclosed not only by member states but also by their peoples, the Merkel government, like previous German governments, has only one suggestion to offer the rest of Europe: that each country catch up with Germany by subjecting itself to its own second round of capitalist transformation – ‘structural reforms’ involving the replacement of traditional forms of social solidarity with market competition and, perhaps at some later date, the embedding of competition in modern institutions of solidarity, like the welfare state and collective bargaining. For this to happen, willing governments must be kept in power, if need be through discreet suspension of democracy, since resistance to the treatment is growing on a broad front. Here, as so often in her long career, Merkel is anything but dogmatic, and certainly isn’t beholden to ordoliberal orthodoxy since what is at stake is Germany’s most precious historical achievement, secure access to foreign markets at a low and stable exchange rate. For several years now, Berlin has allowed the European Central Bank under Draghi and the European Commission under Juncker to invent ever new ways of circumventing the Maastricht treaties, from financing government deficits to subsidising ailing banks. None of this has done anything to resolve the fundamental structural problems of the Eurozone. What it has done is what it was intended to do: buy time, from election to election, for European governments to carry out neoliberal reforms, and for Germany to enjoy yet another year of prosperity.
My preoccupation -- I think about this constantly, and have for years -- is how much longer can this political-economic system stumble forward? So many times it appears on the verge of collapse, yet it always manages somehow to stay upright. Has history truly ended or are we finally witnessing the birth of a new era?