Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Trump's "Safe Zones"

It looks like a Trump administration is melting down even sooner than anticipated.

Iran test fired a missile. Such missile launches, the Israelis insist, are banned under the 2015 nuclear agreement. Trump talked tough on the campaign trail about how he would crack down on Iran. Things are heating up in Yemen as well. So Trump is at a point where he can't freely tack back and forth on foreign policy. He is going to have to commit to a course of action.

There is no course more momentous than Trump's apparent commitment to "safe zones," a sloppy repackaging of Hillary's long-sought-after "no-fly zones."

According to Nahal Toosi's story in Politico, "Trump chats with Saudi, Abu Dhabi leaders about 'safe zones'":
In his call with Saudi King Salman, the president “requested, and the king agreed to support, safe zones in Syria and Yemen, as well as supporting other ideas to help the many refugees who are displaced by the ongoing conflicts,” the White House said.
It was not immediately clear what Trump meant by “requested” safe zones in those two war-struck countries or what the Saudis are willing to do. Past talk of creating such havens has run into the reality that U.S. lawmakers are cool to any move that could lead to the deployment of American troops in the Middle East.
Trump and Salman also “agreed on the importance of rigorously enforcing the [nuclear deal] with Iran and of addressing Iran’s destabilizing regional activities.”
Trump garnered quite a bit of intellectual support from the left because of his reluctance to embrace the neocon jihadi war to oust the Baathists in Syria. Now that reluctance appears to have been a campaign ploy.

Obama's reboot of the Cold War likely cost the Democrats the White House in 2016. When Trump dons the mantle of the perpetual warrior, whether saber-rattling against Tehran or fiddling about with the sheikhs golden ticket of a Syrian no-fly zone, most of his popular intellectual support will evaporate. He'll be left with the know-nothings out there in opioid-induced-constipation TVland.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Trump Needs Le Pen and Vice Versa

Benoît Hamon won the Socialist Party primary yesterday in France. He won 58% of the vote, clobbering the neoliberal Manuel Valls. Alissa Rubin reports in "Benoît Hamon Wins French Socialist Party’s Presidential Nomination":
Mr. Hamon strongly endorses a stimulus approach to improving the economy and has promised to phase in a universal income, which would especially help young people looking for work, but would also supplement the livelihood of low-paid French workers. The end goal would be to have everyone receive 750 euros per month (about $840).
With the Republican's François Fillon on the ropes over allegations that his wife received a lucrative no-show job, and Jean-Luc Mélenchon of the Left Party gaining momentum, the first round of France's general election on April 23 is shaping up to be anybody's guess.

Fillon stands for greater austerity, and Emmanuel Macron, who abandoned the Socialist Party and the Hollande government last year to create a new political party En Marche!, is a peak neoliberal who is currently standing at number three in the opinion polls.

I suppose a scenario is possible where Fillon continues to bleed out and Macron qualifies for the second round. But what I am interested in is whether it is at all possible to imagine a leftist, whether Hamon or Mélenchon, moving on to round two. And I don't think it is. Hollande has done lasting damage to the Socialists, and in the West, there is no broad base of support for legitimate leftist political formations.

So it appears that it will be Fillon or Macron squaring off against Marine Le Pen of the National Front. I think she beats either one for the same reason Trump beat Hillary -- because s/he is the person who said s/he is going to protect voters' jobs and lifestyles.

Trump needs Le Pen at this point, and Le Pen needs Trump to avoid total self-destruction before the end of April. Announcing his immigration order without working first with the Department of Homeland Security created chaos. If Trump makes more decisions like this in the next three months, a Le Pen presidency might not seem worth the risk to a majority of French voters.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Bogus Study Foundation of Voter Fraud Claims

Nate Cohn debunks Trump's epic voter fraud claim in "Illegal Voting Claims, and Why They Don’t Hold Up":
There isn’t any evidence to support President Trump’s assertion that three to five million illegal votes were cast in the 2016 presidential election. 
But there is one study that has been interpreted to suggest it is at least possible. It found that between 32,000 and 2.8 million noncitizen voters might have fraudulently cast ballots in the 2008 presidential election. The study, based on a survey of 38,000 people after that election, has been under fire since it was published in 2014.
Cohn proceeds to burn the survey, the Cooperative Congressional Election Study, to the ground. All its noncitizen voters can be explained, and have been explained, as response error. Respondents completing the survey filled it out incorrectly. Not one noncitizen voter has been proved.

This says a lot about the Bizarro world in which we live. The media monopoly is so tainted its critique of Trump's assertion that Hillary's margin of victory in the popular vote can be explained entirely by illegal voters seems merely like more noise.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Trump Will Go the Way of Nixon

I've been telling people since before the inaugural that it can't be sustained, that Trump will flame out. My epiphany yesterday was that what we are are dealing with here is a convoluted backward reanimation of Nixon.

Nixon came to power after winning a squeaker in 1968 because the Democratic Party had imploded. A shrewd campaigner and a dirty tricks magician, Nixon colluded with the South Vietnamese to upend LBJ's peace initiative, dooming Humphrey's chances of victory; then, in 1972, thanks to Kevin Phillips' Southern Strategy and the assassination attempt and crippling of George Wallace, Nixon reaped the whirlwind and smoked McGovern, remaking the GOP as the party of the cracker working man.

After that '72 landslide there was Watergate, and it was the GOP's turn to wander in the wilderness. Until the Reagan messiah appeared to cleanse the body politic six years later.

But Trump, who fancies himself a Reagan, is no Reagan. Trump is a Nixon, a deluded, brooding, grudge junkie without any of Nixon's Deep State sophistication, on foreign policy, on the labyrinthine federal bureaucracy, etc. Rather than recording himself on mountains of magnetic audio tape, Trump mainlines himself into the global noosphere via Twitter.

Nixon's election was a river flowing backward against the zeitgeist. The country continued to get freakier as Nixon welcomed Billy Graham to the White House. The same thing is going to happen now. Western society is now solidly feminist and multicultural and pantheistic. The old time dysfunctional cracker monotheistic patriarchal order is broken beyond repair. It can appear from the corner of the eye, like a ghost encountered on the staircase of the Winchester Mystery House, as majority sentiment, but it is not. Trump's 45% approval rating is probably his maximum level of support. We'll see tomorrow when a Right-to-Life march stacks up against last week's women's march.

Trump is headed full speed for the cliff. If I had to bet I would say that his goading of the Dragon is an almost certain path to destruction. To understand why read "Trump Injects High Risk Into Relations With China" by Jane Perlez and Chris Buckley. Trump's scrapping of the TPP convinced the Chinese that he might do the same thing with Nixon's One China policy. The Chinese are now preparing for a trade war; they will target Boeing aircraft and U.S. agricultural bounty. The Trump administration has also been hinting at a blockade of the islands China has recently constructed in the South China Sea. According to Perlez and Buckley,
Mr. Trump has also threatened China on control of territory it claims in the South China Sea. The comments by Mr. Trump’s press secretary, Sean Spicer, on Monday echoed those made by his nominee for secretary of state, Rex W. Tillerson, at his Senate confirmation hearing.
While Mr. Trump has not explained how he will keep China off islands where it has built airstrips and installed weapons, the comments by his appointees suggest the possibility of an American blockade. While Mr. Obama tried unsuccessfully to leverage American allies in the region to compel China to back down, Mr. Trump seems willing to abandon them and face China on his own.
That go-it-alone attitude has raised alarms at the Pentagon and among American Navy experts, who said such a blockade would be tantamount to war. The idea has also alarmed America’s allies.
Australia, Washington’s staunchest ally in the Asia Pacific region, would not participate in such a venture, its defense officials said, adding that a blockade could not be successful and could serve to persuade disenchanted American friends in the Asia Pacific to pivot toward China.
A scenario where the Pentagon refuses orders of the commander in chief and then works with allies in Congress to remove him is not far-fetched.

One thing is certain, the Masters of the Universe, the 0.1%, are nervous. "Elites Eying the Exits Signals America's Crisis," by Robert Johnson, was posted yesterday on Naked Capitalism:
Yves here. A former private equity partner mentioned the New Yorker story on 0.1% bunkering. He noticed how they focused on the private jet pilot as a point of vulnerability, that he might fly his family out and leave them stranded. So the approach is to assure him that his relatives get seats on the plane too.
Originally published at the Institute for New Economic Thinking website
Interviewed as part of an extraordinary New Yorker investigation into growing anxiety among America’s corporate elite over the potential for anarchic social collapse, Institute President Robert Johnson saw his peers’ talk of bolt-holes in New Zealand as reflecting a deeper crisis.
Johnson told writer Evan Osnos of the mounting anxiety he had encountered among hedge-fund managers and other wealthy Americans he knew. “More and more were saying, ‘You’ve got to have a private plane,” Johnson said. “You have to assure that the pilot’s family will be taken care of, too. They have to be on the plane.’ ”
Osnos writes: “By January, 2015, Johnson was sounding the alarm: the tensions produced by acute income inequality were becoming so pronounced that some of the world’s wealthiest people were taking steps to protect themselves. At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Johnson told the audience, ‘I know hedge-fund managers all over the world who are buying airstrips and farms in places like New Zealand because they think they need a getaway.’
Johnson bemoaned the lack of a “spirit of stewardship” and openness to more aggressively redistributive tax policy among the wealthy.
“Twenty-five hedge-fund managers make more money than all of the kindergarten teachers in America combined,” he told the New Yorker. “Being one of those twenty-five doesn’t feel good. I think they’ve developed a heightened sensitivity.”
If anything, Osnos wrote, inequality is widening, noting recent statistics from the National Bureau of Economic Research that showed that while incomes for the top 1 percent of Americans have nearly tripled, half of the population was earning at the same level they did in 1980, comparing America’s wealth gap to that seen in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“If we had a more equal distribution of income, and much more money and energy going into public school systems, parks and recreation, the arts, and health care, it could take an awful lot of sting out of society,” Johnson said. “We’ve largely dismantled those things.”
He saw elite anxiety as an indicator America’s social crisis.
“Why do people who are envied for being so powerful appear to be so afraid?” Johnson said. “What does that really tell us about our system? It’s a very odd thing. You’re basically seeing that the people who’ve been the best at reading the tea leaves—the ones with the most resources, because that’s how they made their money—are now the ones most preparing to pull the rip cord and jump out of the plane.”
Trump is a manifestation of end times. When it becomes apparent that he is a lens magnifying end times, hastening their arrival, rather than punting them downfield for another decade or two, the GOP in Congress will abandon him. But by that time it will be too late.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Trump Now Controls the Clock

You have to struggle to find news this morning about Trump's pipeline signings. My local paper leads with a story about a rally I attended last night, which was impressive in that it was called in the afternoon and managed to fill the downtown park where these events usually take place.

After about five-minutes worth of searching the online corpus of The New York Times I found "Trump Revives Keystone Pipeline Rejected by Obama," by Peter Baker and Coral Davenport, which had briefly topped Google News yesterday.

The big takeaway from the article is that Trump's pipeline signings -- inviting TransCanada to resubmit its Keystone XL application and then instructing the Army Corps of Engineers to hurry up in permitting DAPL -- were pure theater. He has bigger fish to fry, like green-lighting mountain-top removal and rolling back CAFE standards:
Mr. Trump’s biggest target may be emission rules that would force the closing of hundreds of coal-fired power plants meant to be replaced by wind and solar power. But they are caught up in court battles that could run for months or years.
By contrast, he could more quickly soften Mr. Obama’s rules requiring tougher vehicle emission standards. Mr. Trump met on Tuesday with executives of major American automakers, who complained that before leaving office, Mr. Obama finalized an ambitious E.P.A. rule requiring that vehicles average 54.5 miles per gallon by 2026. Mr. Trump said he would help with burdensome regulations, but offered no specifics.
Mr. Trump could lift a moratorium instituted last year by Mr. Obama on new coal mining leases on public lands. As soon as next month, the Republican-led Congress may pass legislation undoing Mr. Obama’s regulations on the practice of mountaintop-removal coal mining and on leaks of planet-warming methane emissions from oil and gas drilling rigs.
In the meantime, the Keystone and Dakota pipelines provided Mr. Trump with visible ways to demonstrate action. As proposed by TransCanada, an Alberta firm, Keystone would carry 800,000 barrels a day from the Canadian oil sands to the Gulf Coast. Republicans and some Democrats said that it would create jobs and expand energy resources, while environmentalists said it would encourage a form of oil extraction that produces more gases that warm the planet than normal petroleum.
Studies showed that the pipeline would not have a momentous effect on jobs or the environment, but both sides made it into a symbolic test case. The State Department estimated that Keystone would support 42,000 temporary jobs for two years — about 3,900 of them in construction and the rest through indirect support, like food service — but only 35 permanent jobs. Similarly, the government concluded that Keystone’s carbon emissions would equal less than 1 percent of the total greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.
“Keystone has never been a significant issue from an environmental point of view in substance, only in symbol,” said David L. Goldwyn, an energy market analyst and a former head of the State Department’s energy bureau in the Obama administration.
But it was a symbol Mr. Trump found important enough to seize on early in his presidency. He signed an executive memorandum inviting TransCanada “to promptly resubmit its application to the Department of State for a presidential permit” for the pipeline, although the document did not guarantee approval.
The president told reporters he would “renegotiate some of the terms” — including possibly an insistence that the pipeline be built with American steel — but left little doubt that he wanted it approved. “We’ll see if we can get that pipeline built,” he said. “A lot of jobs.”
In a statement, TransCanada accepted his invitation to seek permission again. “We are currently preparing the application and intend to do so,” the company said, vowing that it would create jobs and still protect waterways and other sensitive resources.
The Dakota Access pipeline in North Dakota became the focus of protests when the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe objected to its construction less than a mile from its reservation. The tribe and its allies won victory last month when the Army Corps of Engineers announced that it would look for alternative routes for the $3.7 billion pipeline instead of allowing it to be drilled under a dammed section of the Missouri River.
Mr. Trump signed an executive memorandum directing the Army “to review and approve in an expedited manner” the pipeline, “to the extent permitted by law and as warranted.” In his session with reporters, he added, “Again, subject to terms and conditions to be negotiated by us.”
Mr. Trump owned stock in Energy Transfer Partners, the company that is building the Dakota Access pipeline, according to his most recent filing with the Federal Election Commission. Last month, a spokesman for Mr. Trump said he sold all of his stock in June, but there is no way of verifying that sale, and Mr. Trump has not provided documentation of it.
Critics vowed to keep resisting the projects. Jan Hasselman, a lawyer for Earthjustice, an environmental law group representing the tribe, said Mr. Trump was discarding the findings of a review. “They’re just ignoring the problems that the government has already found,” he said, “and that is the kind of thing that courts need to review very closely.”
The signings coincided with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe asking the water protectors to pack up and go home. Poor timing.

Timing is the meta-narrative of Trump's first week in office. Trump controls the clock. He is controlling the flow of news. It is coming too fast. The media is playing hurry-up. This morning the headlines are dominated by Trump's executive order to build a border wall, as well as his promise of a federal investigation of voter fraud. Tomorrow it will be something else.

The #ResistTrumpTuesdays protests were a whisper following the adulation over "a revolutionary movement in the making" of the women's march.

If Trump continues to wrong-foot his opponents, Robert Miller's comments from yesterday will no doubt be proven true: "Maybe Donald's purpose in life is to teach liberals that the CIA is really swell, and that coups by intelligence agencies are really the cat's meow."

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Pink Revolution Demographics + Trump on Trade + Goading the Dragon + Brexit in Play

Nate Silver has a definitive breakdown of Saturday's women's marches ("The Long March Ahead For Democrats"):
Saturday’s Women’s Marches, which rebuked President Trump on the day after his inauguration, probably drew more than 3 million participants between hundreds of locations across the United States, making them among the largest mass protests in American history. The marches recalled the tea party protests of April 15, 2009, an event that helped to mark the beginnings of a backlash to former President Obama — but overall attendance at the Women’s Marches was about 10 times higher than at the tea party rallies, according to our estimates.
But the geographic distribution of the marches also echoed November’s election results, in which Hillary Clinton lost the Electoral College despite receiving almost 3 million more votes than Trump nationwide. About 80 percent of march attendees were in states that Clinton won, and a disproportionate number were in major cities. So if the marches were a reminder of the depth of opposition to Trump — unprecedented for a president so early in his term — they also reflected Democrats’ need to expand the breadth of their coalition if they are to make a comeback in 2018 and 2020.
Silver then proceeds to analyze the marches in terms of geography. The marches overwhelming took place in big cities, in states Clinton won, and reflect an urban versus rural divide that defined the election. Silver has very faint praise for the overall import of the Pink Revolution:
Like the early tea partiers, some of the people who turned out on Saturday will turn into organizers, fundraisers and influential voices in their communities, and some of them will even become candidates for office. The Democratic Party needs broader geographic appeal than what it has right now. But turning out 3 million people one day after the new president is inaugurated is a pretty good start.
My gut sense is that the women's march is a classic one-off like the People's Climate March of 2014 organized by 350.org -- huge but hard to replicate and of uncertain merit in creating meaningful change.

Yves Smith assesses what is in store for us with a Trump presidency. In "Consternation as Trump Starts Delivering on Campaign Promises While Making More Crazy Attacks on Critics" Smith argues that Trump is a narcissist with a difference -- he's a narcissist who is willing to regularly destroy his own image:
With Trump, we have, far more visibly. the same question that dogged the Obama Administration: what does he really stand for? With Obama, we learned that he was conservative and cautious, but also very much liked the appearance of getting things done. His press office repeatedly cited how much legislation was passed on his watch, as if volume was more important than quality. Trump is likely to have the same orientation. It’s easy to assume, as critics do, that Trump wants to become even wealthier. But Trump more than anything wants to be visible: his splashy/trashy buildings, his TV show, his relentless self-promotion, his reckless tweets. While Trump in oh so many ways looks like a classic narcissist, one departure is his need to mix things up. Most narcissists are working above all to have their environment reflect back a good image of them. Trump’s regular undermining of his own image is at odds with that.
There are far too many moving parts to have any firm view as to how the Trump Administration will pan out. But even though there was good reason to suspect that given the record of both celebrity politicians and DC outsiders, that Trump would wind up as Jimmy Carter squared, a President that didn’t get much done, the flip side is that underestimating Trump has proven to be a losing bet. Stay tuned.
Much a Trump's popular support is going to depend on how he handles trade. The Democrats doomed themselves by Obama pushing the TPP throughout 2016. Trump is off to a good start by scrapping the TPP. But as Smith points out much remains to be seen:
Both Bernie Sanders and the Teamsters praised Trump for ending the TPP. It is surprisingly under-reported that Trump met today with labor leaders, almost all of whom had supported Clinton. It is a not-well-kept secret that many union members bucked the leadership and voted for Trump. But the bosses engaging in a session with Trump that they described as “excellent” may be the start of the formal and long-overdue exit of unions from a party that has treated them as disposable for over 30 years. 
But how far will Trump go? The problems with TPP were much better publicized than many might assume; when Lambert saw Trump speak in Bangor, Trump referred to the TPP only by its initials, didn’t explain it, and the crowd seemed familiar with it. By contrast, other dangerous “trade” deals, like the TTIP and TISA, are still as of now, moving forward.
Trump appears committed to goading the Dragon. According to this morning's Foreign Policy Situation Report:
Warning shot aimed at Beijing. Sean Spicer also told reporters Monday that Washington is prepared to take action to prevent China from building more islands in the South China Sea and claiming the territory as its own. "It’s a question of if those islands are in fact in international waters,” he said, “and not part of China proper, then yeah, we’re going to make sure that we defend international territories from being taken over by one country."
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying shot back on Tuesday that China's sovereignty over the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea was "irrefutable," adding, “we urge the United States to respect the facts, speak and act cautiously to avoid harming the peace and stability of the South China Sea," Hua said. "China's resolve to protect its sovereignty and maritime rights in the South China Sea will not change.” 
If Trump continues down this path it can't end well. Trump acts as if he thinks that the Chinese are lightweights. He is going to have to switch up his game or risk catastrophic failure.

When it comes to catastrophic failure the UK political class' management of Brexit comes to mind. The Supreme Court ruled today that Article 50 negotiations can't begin until Parliament votes. Here is an 11th-hour opportunity for the discredited neoliberal orthodoxy. Parliament could block Article 50 and in effect repeal Brexit. This outcome is usually dismissed in most stories. But why? A majority of Labour and Conservative MPs opposed Brexit. I suppose they are worried about the repercussions to their political careers if they were to block Brexit. But a plausible scenario is to amend and talk any Parliamentary vote to death, May's government would fall and new elections would be held which would be a replay of the Brexit referendum. The outcome could very well be different this time.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Does the Pink CoRev Have Legs?

Charles Blow ends this morning's column ("We Are Dissidents; We Are Legion") with a snapshot of liberal elite aims with regards to Trump's presidency:
It is possible that Trump has reactivated something President Obama couldn’t maintain, and Hillary Clinton couldn’t fully tap into: A unified, mission-driven left that puts bodies into the streets. The women’s marches sent a clear signal: Your comfort will not be built on our constriction. We are America. We are loud, “nasty” and fed up. We are motivated dissidents and we are legion.
This is pure fantasy. Much as I would like to imagine that a mass, mission-driven left is being born, it is not. This was a women's march, a nice one-off, but one that was not without serious troubles of its own; for instance, it began as a "Million Woman March," which set off criticism from black women for being tone deaf cultural appropriation.

If the much larger anti-war marches of 2002 and 2003 ended nowhere, and the cultural awakening of Obama 2008 during the Lehman market meltdown ended up ushering in huge Republic gains in the House two years later, then there is little hope for the Pink Revolution.

What the Pink Revolution does have going for it is a lot of top-down direction and elite support. Read "After Success of Women’s March, a Question Remains: What’s Next?" by Susan Chira and Jonathan Martin and you come away thinking that this is a movement that is going to have a lot of access to resources.

The problem is that liberalism and the Democratic Party don't mean anything to working people anymore. The Democratic Party stands for an identity politics minus any robust commitment to social welfare, and that is what is being rejected by working-class voters. All you have to do is read Alissa Rubin's excellent "With French Socialists in Crisis, Manuel Valls and Benoît Hamon Head to Runoff." Rank'n'file Socialists are abandoning their party for Marine Le Pen's National Front.

Trump might look a little wobbly fuming over unimpressive turnout for his inaugural, but he is about to be buoyed by votes in Holland and France.

The issue is that the mainstream neoliberal consensus established in the late 1970s is collapsing. It is done. Faith has been lost.

The Pink Revolution will be maintained as an essential cat's-paw for the Deep State, a simulacrum of a mass movement as a counterweight to Trumpism.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Trump Swears Fealty to Deep State During Pink "CoRev"

Saturday was supposed to be a day for Mr. Trump to mend fences with the intelligence community, with an appearance at the C.I.A.’s headquarters in Langley, Va. While he was lavish in his praise, the president focused in his 15-minute speech on his complaints about news coverage of his criticism of the nation’s spy agencies, and meandered to other topics, including the crowd size at his inauguration, his level of political support, his mental age and his intellectual heft.
I just want to let you know, I am so behind you,” Mr. Trump told more than 300 employees assembled in the lobby for his remarks.
In recent weeks, Mr. Trump has questioned the intelligence agencies’ conclusion that Russia meddled in the United States election on his behalf. After the disclosure of a dossier with unsubstantiated claims about Mr. Trump, he accused the intelligence community of allowing the leak and wrote on Twitter, “Are we living in Nazi Germany?”
On Saturday, he said journalists were responsible for any suggestion that he was not fully supportive of intelligence agencies’ work.
“I have a running war with the media,” Mr. Trump said. “They are among the most dishonest human beings on earth, and they sort of made it sound like I had a feud with the intelligence community.”
“The reason you’re the No. 1 stop [CIA HQ in Langley] is, it is exactly the opposite,” Mr. Trump added. “I love you, I respect you, there’s nobody I respect more.”
That's from "With False Claims, Trump Attacks Media on Turnout and Intelligence Rift," by Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Matthew Rosenberg. Much of the story is taken up with competing claims about the size of Trump's inaugural crowd versus Obama's (both 2009 and 2013). It is also being reported that "The women’s march in Washington was roughly three times the size of the audience at President Trump’s inauguration, crowd counting experts said Saturday." (See
"Crowd Scientists Say Women’s March in Washington Had 3 Times More People Than Trump’s Inauguration," by Tim Wallace and Alice Parlapiano.)

I count no less than six stories in Sunday's New York Times devoted to yesterday's women's march. Turnout is estimated to have been approximately half a million in Washington D.C. and 400,000 in New York City. Not bad.

The women's march had its colorful symbol (a pink hat), and it had it's own Shepherd Fairey poster of a woman wearing Old Glory as a hijab:

In other words, the women's march had all the makings for a domestic color revolution: robust numbers of regular citizens, fetching symbols, a supple propaganda apparatus, all in opposition to a bloated billionaire megalomaniac. What was missing was a provocative act of violence, like the Maidan snipers or the pepper-spray storm that kicked off the Umbrella Revolution.

I don't think the intention here was to send Trump and Melania fleeing from the nation's capital. I think the goal was to put Trump on notice that if he doesn't kneel to the Deep State the color revolution machinery can be fired up again easily; and the next time, protesters likely will have plans for civil disobedience. That was the great failing of the huge protests in the run up to the illegal U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 -- leadership did not or could not ratchet up marches to mass civil disobedience. With Moral Mondays an established part of the bourgeois protest repertoire, I think it will be much easier now to mobilize mass civil disobedience if and when it is needed.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Hippies vs. Punks: DJ/rupture

There is a cornucopia of free downloads of DJ/rupture's mixes available on his Mudd Up! blog. Dating from Gold Teeth Thief (2001) and running up to Sunset Park Rent Strike (2012), the mixes provide a sonic history of our contemporary age.

There were a few moments of sunny relaxation during the low-wage full employment of Slick Willie's second term. Rents, while rising, were still manageable as long as work was readily available.

But then you had the dotcom boom and bust coinciding with 9/11, and things have never been the same. It's the "things have never been the same" that rupture's mixes capture.

Like sliding a analog radio dial on a global digital receiver, rupture's sonic world is a world of the marginalized black and brown of the periphery. The master narrative no longer rules. There is chaos.

That is why I thought it was appropriate to feature rupture's music today, the day of Trump's inauguration as the 45th POTUS. The Trump presidency cannot be sustained. The system is failing.

The system would have failed if Hillary had triumphed, but it could, from an elite perspective, have been a more managed failure. With Trump the system is hurtling toward abject, near-term failure.

My favorite rupture mixes are Uproot (2008) and, with Matt Shadetek, Solar Life Raft (2009).

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Death of the Daily Newspaper

Yesterday, bottom of the fold on the front of the business page, was a story more illuminating than most of what was found on the front page. In "New York Times Study Calls for Rapid Change in Newsroom" Sydney Ember discusses “Journalism That Stands Apart," the Gray Lady's assessment, known internally as the 2020 report, of how it can survive in a digital age when it continues to hemorrhage print ad revenue:
The report comes at a particularly sobering time for the legacy media industry. The steep and continuous decline of high-margin print advertising has led to significant financial challenges for most newspapers, which in turn are cutting costs and trying to find new revenue sources.
News organizations, including The Wall Street Journal and Gannett, have made significant cuts in staffing; The Journal is currently conducting a newsroom review similar to that of The Times, called WSJ2020.
Among the other recommendations in The Times’s report were reducing duplicative layers of article editing, and having visual experts play “the primary role covering some stories” — part of an urgent call for more visual journalism. The report also calls for a renewed focus on diversity within The Times as a way of ensuring that the paper’s journalists “reflect the audience we seek.”
“The world is changing really rapidly,” David Leonhardt, a columnist who led the group’s work, said in an interview. “We have to keep up, and even get ahead of it.”
The key to survival for The Times appears to be more of the same -- layoffs and greater Snapchatesque digitalization.

A great deal of Ember's article was taken up with the coming cull of editors at the paper, with a hint of the funereal gloom of front-line staff:
Within The Times’s newsroom, where the impending staff cuts have some employees on edge, the report did not satisfy those looking for specific guidance on their future.
Several employees said much of the report merely confirmed many of the initiatives that were already underway. Some expressed frustration that the report did not provide details about layoffs and that there was little information about how individual departments might be altered or how specific jobs might change.
Instead, the report emphasizes The Times’s strengths and lays out a series of broad recommendations intended to ensure the company’s survival for years to come. Mr. Baquet [executive editor] said the goal was to put in place as many recommendations as possible this year. Several of them have been introduced, including the creation of subject-focused newsroom teams and a restructuring of the copy desks.
Most important, the report affirms The Times’s commitment to its subscriber-based revenue model, a departure from many other publications, both traditional and online, whose businesses are built on page-views, visitors and clicks.
“We are, in the simplest terms, a subscription-first business,” the report says. “We are not trying to maximize clicks and sell low-margin advertising against them. We are not trying to win a page-views arms race.”
Herein lies the contradiction for The Times. Without seeing a profit & loss statement, my guess is that the Gray Lady is excessively dependent on the revenue from her print subscribers; that the revenue from digital subscriptions pales in comparison. Yet the 2020 changes outlined will diminish the printed product while pushing more resources online, meaning the foundation of the company's business model will continue to erode.

If I am to take my apartment building as an example, I would have to say that there are as many subscribers to the print national edition of The New York Times as there ever have been, at least since I have been here (spring 2002). There are two -- me and a transgender person my age -- on my side of the building, and I think two on the other side. (What I don't see are nearly as many copies of the local daily.)

The death knell for The Times is that young people don't read newsprint. They read their phones. When my neighbor Carla and I age out there will be no one to take up our subscriptions.

I give the daily newspaper in its present form 20 more years. In the next two decades digital corporate ad placement will become increasingly inseparable from regular newspaper columns and features, the content of which will be almost entirely of government origin.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Future of Rojava: Pentagon vs. CIA

Now and then the most spook-friendly of reporters will produce vital journalism. "Obama’s Stark Options on ISIS: Arm Syrian Kurds or Let Trump Decide," by Michael Gordon and Eric Schmitt, two of the Deep State's loyal scribes, is an example.

Outlining the Raqqa puzzle Obama leaves unfinished as he exits the Oval Office, Gordon and Smith illuminate the contradictions of the administration's war in Syria.

The U.S. can't conquer Raqqa, capital of the Islamic State, without the radical, anarcho-feminist Syrian Kurd fighters of the YPG. The YPG must be armed for urban combat and then backed up by U.S. Apache helicopters equipped with Hellfire missiles. But to arm the Syrian Kurds risks almost certain reprisal from Turkey, including the possibility of a Turkish invasion of Rojava.

The CIA favors sidelining the YPG (see the Barzani quote below) by fabricating a larger force comprised of Turkish troops and Iraqi Pesh Merga. But the Pentagon knows that these CIA-engineered militias are more PR than actual fighting units. So it is insisting on the YPG. Obama will likely dither and punt it to Trump. And Trump, no anarcho-feminist, will probably want to curry favor with Erdogan. Then again Trump's administration is heavy with Pentagon brass, and Trump is none too keen on the CIA these days. So maybe Rojava has a shot.
But arming the Kurds would also aggravate Mr. Obama’s tense relations with Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has contended that the Y.P.G. is linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which Turkey and the United States regard as a terrorist group.
The administration has been considering ways to ease Turkey’s anxiety, such as making arrangements to monitor the weapons given to the Syrian Kurds for the Raqqa offensive and thus prevent the weapons from being used elsewhere by the Kurds. In addition, Arab forces would occupy Raqqa after the city is taken, and Kurdish fighters would be withdrawn.
The United States also recently began carrying out airstrikes near Al Bab, a town in northern Syria that Turkey has been struggling to take from the Islamic State.
But American diplomats in Ankara, the Turkish capital, have warned that providing weapons to the Y.P.G. could provoke a Turkish backlash, officials say. Not only might it cause a deep breach in the United States’ relations with Mr. Erdogan, but the Turks might take actions against the Y.P.G. in northern Syria that could ultimately undermine the offensive to retake Raqqa.
Anticipating Mr. Obama’s decision, the Turks have been quietly increasing the pressure by delaying approval for American air missions that are flown from the Turkish air base at Incirlik and supplies going in and out of the base. Incirlik has been a major hub for carrying out airstrikes against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.
Turkey’s sensitivity on the issue was clear last week when the United States Central Command, which oversees military operations in the Middle East, posted a statement on Twitter by the Syrian Democratic Forces, the umbrella group that includes Syrian Kurds as well as Syrian Arab fighters, affirming that it is not part of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party as “some regional governments” have claimed.
“Is this a joke or @CENTCOM has lost its senses,” Ibrahim Kalin, Mr. Erdogan’s spokesman, responded on Twitter.
Faced with the dilemma, some administration officials have suggested that American officials go back to the drawing board and try to cobble together a more diverse force to take Raqqa that would include Turkish Special Forces as well as Turkish-supported Syrian opposition groups. American commanders say about 20,000 troops will be needed to seize the city. By contrast, Turkey has been able to muster only about 2,000 Arab fighters in its battle to reclaim Al Bab, and that campaign has been bogged down by fierce resistance.
During a visit to Washington last month, Masrour Barzani, a top security official in the Kurdish autonomous region in Iraq, pressed American officials to work with Syrian Kurds who are separate from the Y.P.G. and are operating in Iraq, a group known as Pesh Merga of Rojava, or Roj Pesh. Aides to Mr. Barzani assert that the Roj Pesh are trained by the pesh merga, would be politically acceptable to the Turks and number about 3,300.
“Roj Pesh are the most efficient and politically diverse force,” Mr. Barzani said. “They can be the bridge to lessen regional tensions and a force multiplier in the campaign.”
But Pentagon officials say that the Y.P.G. has the most effective fighters, is already closing in on Raqqa, and that trying to assemble, train and equip an alternative force could be difficult and at best would take many months.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Davos Man and Fake News

Marcy Wheeler has a good post rebutting DCI John Brennan's denial that the intelligence community was behind the leak of the "dirty dossier" on Trump. Brennan argues that the dossier was bouncing around in the press long before it was published; therefore, you cannot lay it at the IC's doorstep. But Wheeler points out that the dossier that was released included a report that postdates all the versions known to be circulating in the press. The idea that this is a domestic color revolution is the one that makes the most sense.

Wall Street lickspittle Andrew Ross Sorkin, in Davos for the World Economic Forum, has a piece worth reading. In "What to Make of the ‘Davos Class’ in the Trump Era" Sorkin outlines an emerging understanding among the elite that globalization has become very unpopular to the voting public.

Sorkin's story has a hopeful "and this too shall pass" aspect to it. Towards the end he mentions how reviled Davos was during the efflorescence of activism around the millennium:
This is not the first time that the World Economic Forum has come under fire from critics about its globalist, free-trade message. In 2000, a group of more than 1,000 demonstrators carrying signs that said “Against the New World Order” smashed the windows of a McDonald’s franchise here in Davos just down the road from the conference, protesting open trade policies espoused by then-President Bill Clinton, who was speaking at the event.
Marcy Wheeler in another post ties the sudden elite panic over Fake News to the inability to think beyond corporate globalization:
Finally, one reason there is such a panic about “fake news” is because the western ideology of neoliberalism has failed. It has led to increased authoritarianism, decreased qualify of life in developed countries (but not parts of Africa and other developing nations), and it has led to serial destabilizing wars along with the refugee crises that further destabilize Europe. It has failed in the same way that communism failed before it, but the elites backing it haven’t figured this out yet. I’ll write more on this (Ian Welsh has been doing good work here). All details of the media environment aside, this has disrupted the value-laden system in which “truth” exists, creating a great deal of panic and confusion among the elite that expects itself to lead the way out of this morass. Part of what we’re seeing in “fake news” panic stems from that, as well as a continued disinterest in accountability for the underlying policies — the Iraq War and the Wall Street crash and aftermath especially — enabled by failures in our elite media environment. But our media environment is likely to be contested until such time as a viable ideology forms to replace failed neoliberalism. Sadly, that ideology will be Trumpism unless the elite starts making the world a better place for average folks. Instead, the elite is policing discourse-making by claiming other things — the bad true and false narratives it, itself, doesn’t propagate — as illegitimate.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Secret Avengers #15

When I want to give my legs a rest from road running I go to an artificial turf soccer field in my neighborhood and jog square laps. It is a particularly nice winter location because early in the morning on the weekend no one is there. Freezing temperatures keep everyone, besides an occasional dog walker, away.

A couple Sundays back I noticed spray-painted on a concrete utility outbuilding next to the soccer pitch the slogan "GIRLS RULE!"

Since I had just finished reading the final issue of Secret Avengers #15, a title Marvel cancelled the spring of 2015, I thought it very auspicious.

The Secret Avengers are a black ops group of Avengers (sort of a superhero SEAL Team 6) put together by Steve Rogers, a.k.a., Captain America, to handle certain unsavory jobs, i.e., extraordinary renditions. Heroes enlisted, like Hawkeye, even undergo memory wipes, a la Jason Bourne. This shows how commonly accepted all murderous and illegal aspects of the Deep State have become. They appear only thinly veiled in a Marvel comic book.

Thematically what Secret Avengers provided Marvel was a way to continue Dark Avengers -- super-villains masquerading with official imprimatur as Avengers -- into the sunny Age of Obama. Dark Avengers was Brian Michael Bendis' superb commentary on the darkness of the Bush years, Norman Osborn as a stand-in for W. Darkness mainstreamed in the body politic.

Secret Avengers was Marvel's way of saying that this darkness would not be banished under Obama. And of course it wasn't. The title's cancellation in early 2015, soon after the disastrous 2014 midterms, is an acknowledgement that this darkness is not a strand of government, an aberrant strain, a subplot; it is the very essence of government, the Deep State itself.

Ales Kot, the writer on the final run of the series, put Maria Hill -- the butch, belligerent head of S.H.I.E.L.D. (Marvel's all-important equivalent of the U.S. national security apparatus) -- at the heart of the narrative, a heady story about a sentient bomb, communal mindspace, love and extinction.

Maria Hill is necessary because men -- white men at least -- can no longer front an almost universally discredited plutocratic warfare state.  We need women or minorities to act the shill; Obama did ably for most of his two terms, despite presiding over enormous losses for the Democratic Party.

These losses, which likely confirm Zach Galifianakis' quip about Obama being the last black president, could be obscured -- such was the hope -- by nominating a woman to preside over the wealthiest, most militarily powerful nation on the planet, indeed, in the history of the world.

It didn't work out that way. And more than any other single factor (and Democrat evasions about Russian hacking and interference from the FBI) it didn't work out that way because women did not vote for a sister in numbers greater than when only men were the nominees of the duopoly. Hillary reaped no record female gender gap; in fact, she only improved upon Obama's 2012 total by a single percentage point.

The ace Clinton held in the sleeve of her paintsuit right up to the exit polls on election day turned out to be a regular pip card. Trump won 53% of white women. Partisan identity "trumped" gender identity.

To put a positive spin on this result one could say that voters saw through the sham of the Democratic Party's identity politics. Hillary, like Maria Hill, is fronting the Deep State, and Clinton had about as much to offer feminism as Margaret Thatcher or Angela Merkel. In other words, nothing. Worse than nothing -- a thin lacquered feminine veneer on the old bloodthirsty divine right of kings, a truly devastating subversion of feminism.

True feminism has to be part of a radically egalitarian order, glimpses of which can be seen in areas where the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) is in power. (See Rod Nordland's "Crackdown in Turkey Threatens a Haven of Gender Equality Built by Kurds.")

Late stage capitalism has been highly successful in integrating women into the workforce, so much so that the gender pay gap might not be as wide as commonly reported. But late stage capitalism is also peak neoliberalism, a savage celebration of elitism and competition. Women, even those that enjoy the benefit of paid maternity leave, think twice before exiting the rat race, and this translates into the problem of low birthrates, a problem that recently reached the headlines. (See "South Korea’s Plan to Rank Towns by Fertility Rate Backfires" by Choe Sang-Hun.) Francis Fukuyama has identified low birthrates as part of a "Great Disruption" that is concomitant with the rise of the Information Society, another name for late stage capitalism or peak neoliberalism.

Helene Cooper's story about the little Cameroonian boy crushed by Samantha Power's speeding motorcade (see "The Boy, the Ambassador and the Deadly Encounter on the Road" and her crucial followup "I Was in the Motorcade That Struck and Killed 6-Year-Old Toussaint Birwe") says it all about the slogan "GIRLS RULE!"

Yes, girls rule. But according to the all the old rules.

Below, from the final issue of Secret Avengers, Maria recounts the time from her childhood when she happened upon a shark in the void. The art is Michael Walsh's.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Midnight Dragon Musings #1

I typed a bunch when I separated from my wife. I found a used Brother manual typewriter in a pawn shop, and I would spend evenings after work drinking Midnight Dragon malt liquor and tapping out my suffering and loss, as well as my hopes and bombast.

Four years ago the loss of the Seahawks to the Falcons in the divisional round sent me spinning. So wedded I was to that team, to Marshawn Lynch and Russell Wilson and the read option, I went searching for a collection of old writings to figure out who I was.

I was looking for a spontaneous prose document called Shit Stinks. I had written it the spring and summer of 1991. I ended up finding, in addition to Shit Stinks and other notes, a collection of letters I had written my first two years living in New York City at the end of the 1980s, which were also the last two years of my marriage. As an experiment in remembrance I entered them on this page with the title of "The Colt 45 Chronicle." It took me longer to do that than it took to write them in the first place.

The manual typewriter typing directly follows "The Colt 45 Chronicle." I had moved to Seattle to work for a drywall contractor who had previously employed me for a couple of summers in the Bay Area. His company was headquartered in the Emerald City.

With the Seahawks manhandled today, and once again bounced out at the divisional round by the Falcons in Atlanta, I thought it would be appropriate to return to these old writings of a young man looking for a way out. I don't feel the emotional connection to the Seahawks I once did. Marshawn Lynch retired at the end of last season. But today's loss is the occasion for some sadness. It is the end of an era. The era of Seahawks dominance.

So here goes. Glued to the folder that contained the Midnight Dragon Musings was a typewritten page:
SEATTLE -- spaceship earth/man made the planets/green grass earth blue round sky.
NEW YORK CITY -- further back in history/brown light bulb of childhood spent with grandparents/the spaceship is gonna land and I gotta find the heart of the planet/diamond black earth electronic sky halo.
As Nietzsche says of suicide, I think of tomorrow as an idea, and it is a great consolation.
Fuses blowing in my hand. My life and the real world. The young witch in training by my side. Quiet. Waiting for the big jolt to send me to the next weigh station.
EXCREMENT OF JOY. Hard Lake. Black pit. Recalcitrant halo. Hope against hindrance. Dreams of the future. Imagination of significant events. Why all this tense rage in the here and now?
Bruised knuckles; skinned, too. Back. Tooth. Hand. Finger split. Hemorrhoids. Hamstring stripped. I'm overwrought and beleaguered. By the whole setup.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Deep State Desperation

There is a good synopsis in this morning's Foreign Policy Situation Report of the latest Deep State effort to disqualify Trump before his inauguration next Friday:
Well, that was something. Welcome to the New Normal, where the head of the Senate Armed Services Committee personally delivers memos to the FBI director, alleging the President-elect’s team has been in contact with Russian intelligence, which has compromising personal and financial material. That was the bombshell dropped Tuesday by Buzzfeed, which published the documents, calling them “unverified, and potentially unverifiable.”
Quickly. The memos, first disclosed by CNN, were written by a former high-ranking British intelligence official hired by Republicans last year to collect information on Trump, were delivered by Sen. John McCain to FBI chief James Comey in December. While the FBI has not verified the accuracy of any of the claims, “U.S. officials had evaluated the sources relied upon by the private firm, considered them credible, and determined that it was plausible that they would have firsthand knowledge of Russia’s alleged dossier on Trump,” the Washington Post reports.
Briefing book. The information was included in the classified report the U.S. intel officials briefed to President Obama and Trump last week.
The first elements of the story were published in October by Mother Jones’ David Corn, but as The Guardian’s Julian Borger points out, Trump’s staffers have been an object of interest for the U.S. intel agencies for months. “The FBI applied for a warrant from the foreign intelligence surveillance (Fisa) court over the summer in order to monitor four members of the Trump team suspected of irregular contacts with Russian officials. The Fisa court turned down the application asking FBI counter-intelligence investigators to narrow its focus. According to one report, the FBI was finally granted a warrant in October, but that has not been confirmed, and it is not clear whether any warrant led to a full investigation.” On Wednesday, Moscow denied having any compromising information on Trump.
Then for the Gray Lady Jonathan Weisman regurgitates Trump's tweeted rejoinder, "Trump on Compromising Dossier Leak: ‘Are We Living in Nazi Germany?’"

What Buzzfeed did was to reanimate opposition research (crafted by a former British intelligence official) that had been floating around in the press prior to the November election. Buzzfeed was able to call this news because of Deep State consul McCain's hand-off of the old opposition research to FBI's Comey. Pretty pathetic and desperate. It's reminiscent of the "Dodgy Dossier."

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Could Parliament Repeal Brexit?

With Trump's inauguration approaching, Congress back at work, and the mainstream media preoccupied with fear-mongering about stolen elections and Russian hackers, there has been precious little news of Europe; in particular, Brexit.

To be fair, there was a story last week, the odious Stephen Castle's "Complicating ‘Brexit’ Plans, Britain’s Top Envoy to E.U. Resigns," about the resignation of longtime Brussels diplomat Ivan Rogers. The pith of Rogers' parting shot was of "the emperor May has no clothes" sort. Rogers says that once Article 50 is invoked, which prime minister Theresa May is supposed to do this March, there is no alternative to a decade-long negotiation to establish a new trade relationship with the continent.

Yesterday Steven Erlanger had an enlightening piece, "Theresa May Prepares to Walk ‘Brexit’ Tightrope With Speech," which fleshed out this thinking:
Therein lies Mrs. May’s dilemma. Diplomats and officials who have had some discussions with her advisers and would not be named because of the confidential nature of those talks say she has two priorities that will limit her negotiating options.
First, vital to Conservatives who consider sovereignty most important is getting Britain out from under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. Second, control over immigration is important to most Brexit voters.
The logic of these two priorities would mean that Britain could no longer be a part of the European Union’s single market for trade in goods and services and freedom of travel and labor. Nor could it be a part of the customs union for goods alone, because that also would mean both paying Brussels and having no ability to strike separate trade deals with China, say, or Washington.
So the only logical future relationship would seem to be a new trade deal in goods and services that Britain would have to negotiate with the rest of the European Union — a negotiation that Mr. Rogers suggested, to Mrs. May’s unhappiness, could take a decade.
In the meantime, he had suggested, Britain should negotiate a transitional agreement that would preserve free trade and would probably look a lot like Britain’s current membership — with the obligations, but without the right to participate in decision-making.
Without such a transition, Britain risks a “hard Brexit,” with considerable damage to its trade and especially to its dominant financial services sector.
But those conclusions are politically unpopular as well, especially with Brexiters like Mr. Davis who believe that the European Union needs Britain more than it needs the European Union, and like Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who likes to say that Britain can have its cake and eat it, too, and that Britain can both control immigration and still remain in the single market.
The loss of access to the single market could also have serious implications for Britain’s integrity, since Scotland’s nationalist leaders threaten a new independence referendum if it can no longer trade freely with the European Union.
But logic and politics do not always fit together nicely. So Mrs. May holds her fire, remains silent about her priorities and their costs and simply promises that she will somehow produce a British exit that satisfies everyone.
This is basically what Yves Smith has been saying when she writes about Brexit for Naked Capitalism. There is no soft landing here. Once Article 50 is invoked the Brits will have three years to negotiate a deal with Brussels, something many, not just Ivan Rogers, think impossible. So the City of London financial empire will bleed out, with major banks setting up shop on the continent.

London Review of Books has sung much the same song.

Given the paradigm shift augured by the hard Brexit in the offing, why don't the politicians fall on their swords and gut Brexit in Parliament? As Erlanger says,
The Supreme Court, the United Kingdom’s highest court of appeal in civil cases, is expected to rule against the government and require that Parliament have a say. A short bill has already been prepared, however, and no one expects lawmakers of either house to oppose the result of the June “Brexit” referendum at this stage.
But stranger things have happened. The question, like the one being asked in the U.S., is the extent to which the Deep State will brook a rejiggering of its "neoliberalism + militarism" formula.

I think May, who opposed Brexit, has been stalling since her installation as PM. There is no alternative to a hard Brexit. She knows this. She has been waiting for the political winds to shift. But the Trump election proved that the winds rather than changing direction just gained in force.

Politicians are not courageous. I think a parliamentary repeal is highly unlikely.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Hippies vs. Punks: Keith Emerson Band / Münchner Rundfunkorchester Three Fates Project (2012)

One of the interesting things about the many "those who have passed" retrospectives that filled the newspapers at the end of the year was the absence of any mention of either Keith Emerson or Greg Lake, the 'E' and 'L' of ELP, Emerson Lake & Palmer, the Prog Rock super-group that came to define the bloated and doomed bombast of pop music in the 1970s that was such easy prey for the Punks.

Keith Emerson blew his brains out in March; Greg Lake succumbed to cancer last month. I only read one year-end round-up that granted the barest of mentions to these Prog Rock originators, William McDonald's "Among Deaths in 2016, a Heavy Toll in Pop Music":
Pop music figures fell all year, many of their voices still embedded in the nicked vinyl grooves of old records that a lot of people can’t bear to throw out. The roster included Paul Kantner of Jefferson Airplane; Keith Emerson and Greg Lake of Emerson, Lake and Palmer; Glenn Frey of the Eagles; and Maurice White of Earth, Wind & Fire.
Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen -- even George Michael -- were featured prominently in McDonald's piece. But at least Emerson and Lake were listed with a hyperlink to their obits.

I took the omission of Emerson and Lake as a telling bit of cultural forgetfulness. It is hard for people who didn't come of age in the 1970s to understand how huge Emerson, Lake & Palmer were. The band was the apotheosis of hugeness itself. Coming as they did right before Punk, blending Moog electronica with classical music and Carl Palmer's propulsive drumming -- all of which really hastened Punk's ascension -- ELP represents sort of a Francis Fukuyama "End of History" cultural signpost, a zenith of postwar amalgamation. The fact that this was nowhere on the radar as 2016 came to end should tell us something.

It tells us that the Punks, synonymous as they are with the installation of neoliberalism, have carried the day, have won the battle, have eclipsed the Hippies. The dialectic has been severed. As a society, we cannot fathom what the world looked like before 1977. We have not a clue what the aspirations of youth were prior to Never Mind the Bollocks (1977). We are floating on a cloud of nihilistic reaction. Things are going to have to continue to disintegrate before we can find a sustainable way forward.

There is a hip young man who works at my neighborhood comic shop. Simon is his name. Simon is also a DJ. When I am thinking about music I ask him his opinion. On Wednesday I asked him if he had heard that Greg Lake had died last month. He gave me a blank stare. I said, "Greg Lake of Emerson, Lake & Palmer." Simon said something to the effect that while some Prog Rock outfits have aged well, like King Crimson, ELP is not one of them.

At this point I could have said, "Well, Lake was a co-founder of King Crimson." But I didn't. Instead, like an affable buffoon, I replied, "I don't know. I have gone back recently and listened to some of those albums. They're really not that bad."

"Appropriately qualified," said Simon.

In any event, the point is that apex of popular Prog Rock is cut off from today's youth. The youth of today have no idea of what it was like to listen to Wendy Carlos' A Clockwork Orange (1972) or the soundtrack to Lina Wertmuller's Swept Away (1974). Even into the early 1980s I would put on Brain Salad Surgery (1973) when I needed a shot of testosterone to finish a column for the high school newspaper.

Testosterone is not an offering in Three Fates Project (2012). A lot of the time it sounds to me like John Tesh's Live at Red Rocks (1995), which is to say horrible. Three Fates Project is Keith Emerson's last studio album. It is not all bad. "Tarkus - Concertante" has its moments.

But it is not what it was.