Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Tough Times Ahead for Democrats

Yesterday's Water Cooler, by Lambert Strether, was particularly good on the DNC election:
“During the 2016 DNC primary, Perez encouraged the Clinton campaign to paint Sanders as a ‘candidate of whites’ in a pathetic attempt to turn off minority voters. That should give people an idea of where the Democratic Party is headed” [American Greatness]. “As I used to tell my fellow Republicans who opposed the Tea Party movement, “you’ve gotta dance with the one who brung ya!” And if you don’t, you won’t go anywhere electorally. After the 2012 presidential election, with the exception of a handful of party elites, the GOP grasped this concept. … A similar battle has been raged between the grassroots segment of the Democratic base and the party’s elite. Except in this case, the elites have bested the base yet again. By denying the groundswell from the 13 million disaffected Leftists who both voted for Bernie Sanders and wanted Keith Ellison to lead the party, the Democrats have solidified their place as a permanent minority party. In all likelihood, the real threat to President Trump’s agenda over the next four years will come from congressional Republicans, not the Democratic Party ‘resistance.'”
"Resistance Recess" did its job to the extent that it generated media. But it is unclear to me if this outpouring of activism isn't what Republicans tag it as, "AstroTurf." Republicans should know because the Democrats are merely copying what they did after the 2008 Obama landslide.

There is this interesting conclusion to Matt Flegenheimer and Thomas Kaplan article, "With Voters Riled Up, Both Parties Aim to Channel the Fury," in yesterday's national edition of The New York Times:
Many attendees at meetings during the recess seemed to be taking their cues from a group called Indivisible, which was created by former congressional staff members after the election to “resist the Trump agenda.” With thousands of local offshoots reported, the effort has emerged as perhaps the most potent cog in the organized activist resistance to Mr. Trump.
“This level of participation was just not built into our lives,” Janene Smith, 35, of Charleston, S.C., said before an event in her home state featuring Representative Mark Sanford and Senator Tim Scott. “Now it is.”
Across the room, a peer, Martha Beck, recalled the last time she had sought such an active political role. “I haven’t done anything since the Nixon era,” said Ms. Beck, 65, a retired teacher.
And often, constituents seemed eager to dispel the suggestion from some Republican lawmakers that people were being paid to protest at their events.
At a forum held by Representative Tom Reed in western New York, Susan Meara, 63, and her husband, Tom, 65, brought a sign to erase any doubts. “I am not being paid to be here,” it read, “but you are, Mr. Reed.”
Maybe there will be a great bourgeois liberal political awakening, but I doubt it. "Resistance Recess" will be hard to repeat. Chuck Schumer thinks otherwise. The senate minority leader thinks people will stay focused and involved throughout the Trump presidency; but that will be hard to do when the party is split.

Look at the Standing Rock Sioux. Their tribal board was split, and they ended up losing their fight to stop DAPL with barely a whimper, 

Monday, February 27, 2017

Does Populism Change Everything?

I'm reading Naomi Klein's This Changes Everything. It is fantastic but dispiriting. It provides a historical account of how collective recognition of climate change corresponded with a corporate-dominated globalized free trade system -- the latter effectively negating a plan for addressing the former. In fact, the primacy of trade was memorialized at the outset at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio.

One theme that Klein stresses throughout is localism. In order to deal with the planet's changing climate we are going to have to craft local solutions. The problem is that the neoliberal global trade architecture that has been erected the last 25 years makes localism illegal. Local goods and services cannot be privileged over those from foreign countries.

And this is why there is such hostility from the neoliberal center towards the populism that is rising throughout the West. At root this fast-growing populism is a rejection of corporate-managed international trade and banking. Being anti-immigrant is just the flower of the populist plant that has taken root.

This morning online, which means it will be printed in tomorrow's national edition, The New York Times has a good, long article by Alissa Rubin, "Geert Wilders, Reclusive Provocateur, Rises Before Dutch Vote," devoted to the "Dutch Trump":
Geert Wilders, far-right icon, is one of Europe’s strangest politicians, not least because he comes from the Netherlands, one of Europe’s most socially liberal countries, with a centuries-long tradition of promoting religious tolerance and welcoming immigrants. 
How he and his party fare in the March 15 elections could well signal how the far right will do in pivotal elections in France, Germany and possibly Italy later this year, and ultimately determine the future of the European Union. Mr. Wilders (pronounced VIL-ders) has promised to demand a “Nexit” referendum on whether the Netherlands should follow Britain’s example and leave the union.
“The Netherlands is kind of a bellwether, a lot of trends manifest themselves here first,” said Hans Anker, a Dutch political strategist who has worked both in the Netherlands and the United States. 
“I wouldn’t rule out that Wilders could be prime minister,” he added. “This one is fundamentally unpredictable.”
The problem for Wilders, even if he wins, will be forming a government:
Right now Mr. Wilders’s party looks set to win more seats than any other or to come in second. However, he has historically polled better before elections than he has performed in them. [Same problem that Le Pen and the National Front have.] Still, after pollsters underestimated the likelihood of both Brexit and the victory of Donald Trump last year, no one is relying on predictions.
The bigger question is whether even if Mr. Wilders comes in first or second, he would be willing to form or join a governing coalition. For more than 20 years, no one party has had a majority. Other parties say they will not work with him and he has shown little interest in compromise and working with others.
What I find curious is how balanced Rubin's story is compared to, say, The Times' reporting on Labour's Jeremy Corbyn, which is always dismissive. It is as if the neoliberal center sees a possibility of collaborating or co-opting the rising populism. This is the dance underway with Trump. And at this point I think it should be apparent to all of us that Trump is willing to play along with the neoliberal center.

There are of course contradictions. The future of the EU is problematic. A Wilders wins means a Nexit vote, as a Le Pen win means a Frexit. The Trump talking point is that capitalism, for all intents and purposes, is contained in one country, and that is the United States. Multilateral trade agreements will be scrapped in favor of bilateral negotiations. Easier said than done. Globalized free trade is the key to the neoliberal unipolar world; that, and full spectrum U.S. military dominance. A kaleidoscope of bilateral trade agreements leads to a multipolar world.


For a good assessment of the Thomas Perez's election over Keith Ellison this weekend to lead the DNC, read Glenn Greenwald's "Key Question About DNC Race: Why Did Obama White House Recruit Perez to Run Against Ellison?"

The answer? Money, of course. It doesn't bode well for Democrat hopes of picking up seats at the midterm.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Will Trump Last the Year?

I run into people -- in the laundry room of my apartment building, at the side entrance to the building where I work -- and the sense I get is that there is an impression forming among Democrats that Trump will not last the year.

Flynn is out and deep state favorite H.R. McMaster is in. Bannon is now in the cross hairs. And Dems are reprising the Tea Party performance of yesteryear.

But how broad and intense is the movement if a Waterloo comes and goes with barely a whimper? The resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline capitulated without a fight.

This was a fight that had to be waged. The enemy was well defined -- oilmen, big money, a culture that perceives Native Americans as not wholly human, climate change. As early as the end of last year there was an enormous outpouring of support for the Standing Rock Sioux, support so robust it prompted the Obama administration to call for a halt to construction.

But in the end, as with Occupy Wall Street, it is hard to maintain a spontaneous, organic mobilization, particularly when you're dealing with the reality of camping out in a North Dakota winter. Also, and no doubt critically, tribal leadership was opposed to a pitched battle. Dave Archambault II, the chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, has been telling protesters for months to go home.

So the radical progressive left is flaky, scattered and unprepared to fight a long, disciplined fight. It doesn't bode well for 350.org's fight to halt the Keystone XL Pipeline.

Maybe MoveOn, Organizing for Action and Indivisible will have better luck with their various Tea Party simulacra, like Resistance Recess. It is hard to lodge much hope here though. These efforts have the feel of a color revolution. Even if they are successful, all we will end up with is more neoliberal centrists. A lot of energy in the prestige press is being put into making sure Emmanuel Macron makes it to the second round of the French presidential election, and knives are forever being sharpened for Labour's Jeremy Corbyn. It's the old saying, "Money doesn't sleep."

Trump has a fail safe. He tacks to the deep state center, which he is doing now, and he buys himself time. This might create problems with the vanguard of his base, but those are problems Trump can likely manage.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

David Brooks Wants a Revolution but Can't Bring Himself to Say It

“Musicians, if they choose to, can drive a tonal wedge through the noisome pestilence; the stench that often accompanies our contemporary societal lifestyles,” [Junie Morrison] said. “I wanted to conceptualize an escape from the tensions and atmospheric pollution, even if it’s only a temporary psycho-acoustical one.”
The last paragraph in Jon Pareles' obit, "Junie Morrison, a Funk Mastermind, Dies at 62," the Ohio Players, Funkadelic, Parliament, P-Funk All-Stars and solo creative powerhouse.
Yesterday's New York Times op-ed page was a wonder.

David Brooks, who has been shuckin' and jivin' in his column since the dark days of the Lehman meltdown (in other words, almost a decade of bullshit), has really hit his stride with the rise of Trump. Now his ruminations are as dark and baleful as a college town coffeehouse anarchist.

Yesterday's "This Century is Broken" really must be read to be believed. Basically Brooks gets it right.
Most of us came of age in the last half of the 20th century and had our perceptions of “normal” formed in that era. It was, all things considered, an unusually happy period. No world wars, no Great Depressions, fewer civil wars, fewer plagues.
It’s looking like we’re not going to get to enjoy one of those times again. The 21st century is looking much nastier and bumpier: rising ethnic nationalism, falling faith in democracy, a dissolving world order.
At the bottom of all this, perhaps, is declining economic growth. As Nicholas Eberstadt points out in his powerful essay “Our Miserable 21st Century,” in the current issue of Commentary, between 1948 and 2000 the U.S. economy grew at a per-capita rate of about 2.3 percent a year.
But then around 2000, something shifted. In this century, per-capita growth has been less than 1 percent a year on average, and even since 2009 it’s been only 1.1 percent a year. If the U.S. had been able to maintain postwar 20th-century growth rates into this century, U.S. per-capita G.D.P. would be over 20 percent higher than it is today.
Slow growth strains everything else — meaning less opportunity, less optimism and more of the sort of zero-sum, grab-what-you-can thinking that Donald Trump specializes in. The slowdown has devastated American workers. Between 1985 and 2000, the total hours of paid work in America increased by 35 percent. Over the next 15 years, they increased by only 4 percent.
For every one American man aged 25 to 55 looking for work, there are three who have dropped out of the labor force. If Americans were working at the same rates they were when this century started, over 10 million more people would have jobs. As Eberstadt puts it, “The plain fact is that 21st-century America has witnessed a dreadful collapse of work.”
That means there’s an army of Americans semi-attached to their communities, who struggle to contribute, to realize their capacities and find their dignity. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics time-use studies, these labor force dropouts spend on average 2,000 hours a year watching some screen. That’s about the number of hours that usually go to a full-time job.
Fifty-seven percent of white males who have dropped out get by on some form of government disability check. About half of the men who have dropped out take pain medication on a daily basis. A survey in Ohio found that over one three-month period, 11 percent of Ohioans were prescribed opiates. One in eight American men now has a felony conviction on his record.
This is no way for our fellow citizens to live. The Eberstadt piece confirms one thought: The central task for many of us now is not to resist Donald Trump. He’ll seal his own fate. It’s to figure out how to replace him — how to respond to the slow growth and social disaffection that gave rise to him with some radically different policy mix.
What Brooks does next is textbook Brooks. He dodges the obvious, logical conclusion -- namely, that the source of all this domestic woe and disintegration is late stage financialized monopoly capitalism, a.k.a., neoliberalism -- by tossing sand in the reader's eyes by providing an ersatz sociological explanation instead, which invariably ends up blaming the victim. To wit --
The hard part is that America has to become more dynamic and more protective — both at the same time. In the past, American reformers could at least count on the fact that they were working with a dynamic society that was always generating the energy required to solve the nation’s woes. But as Tyler Cowen demonstrates in his compelling new book, “The Complacent Class,” contemporary Americans have lost their mojo.
Cowen shows that in sphere after sphere, Americans have become less adventurous and more static. For example, Americans used to move a lot to seize opportunities and transform their lives. But the rate of Americans who are migrating across state lines has plummeted by 51 percent from the levels of the 1950s and 1960s.
Americans used to be entrepreneurial, but there has been a decline in start-ups as a share of all business activity over the last generation. Millennials may be the least entrepreneurial generation in American history. The share of Americans under 30 who own a business has fallen 65 percent since the 1980s.
Americans tell themselves the old job-for-life model is over. But in fact Americans are switching jobs less than a generation ago, not more. The job reallocation rate — which measures employment turnover — is down by more than a quarter since 1990.
There are signs that America is less innovative. Accounting for population growth, Americans create 25 percent fewer major international patents than in 1999. There’s even less hunger to hit the open road. In 1983, 69 percent of 17-year-olds had driver’s licenses. Now only half of Americans get a license by age 18.
In different ways Eberstadt and Cowen are describing a country that is decelerating, detaching, losing hope, getting sadder. Economic slowdown, social disaffection and risk aversion reinforce one another.
Of course nothing is foreordained. But where is the social movement that is thinking about the fundamentals of this century’s bad start and envisions an alternate path? Who has a compelling plan to boost economic growth? If Trump is not the answer, what is?
What Brooks describes is monopoly capitalism and economic inequality run amok. It is obvious to anyone growing up playing Monopoly. When the other players own all the property and have built hotels on it, rolling the dice and moving around the board is painful if not deadly.

Brooks has been doing this -- putting sociological effects ahead of political-economic causes -- since global capitalism tanked in 2008. At the time I thought, "Well, he's got to do something. He's The Times' house conservative." And while he brings yesterday's column back around to the necessity of bolstering economic growth, he nowhere states the obvious: The super-rich love this low growth economy because they keep vacuuming up a greater share of the total wealth, which means even greater power and prestige.

What Brooks is really arguing for is a revolution. But he is a prophet in the employ of bankers, and he wants to keep his job at "the newspaper of record." So he'll keep confusing effects for causes.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Specter of Fake News Creates Justification for Surveillance and Censorship

"Europe Combats a New Foe of Political Stability: Fake News," by Mark Scott and Melissa Eddy, provides an encapsulation of efforts underway in Europe and the United States to police the Fake News phenomenon.

Part and parcel of the New McCarythism sweeping Western capitals, Fake News, as conjured up by embattled government officials and their partners in the mainstream media, is a plot by Russia and its army of trolls to spread bogus -- often times titillatingly so -- stories in social media and the blogosphere that undermine support of and trust in the prestige press, centrist political parties and government. 

That's the official version of Fake News. What's really going on is a desperate, fumbling attempt by the elite to herd citizens who no longer believe in the dominant neoliberal paradigm. (When real examples of Fake News are provided it is usually something with a commercial motive, like the Fake News campaign 20th Century Fox launched to promote its feature film, A Cure For Wellness.) 

Erosion of support for the neoliberal center is branded fake and sourced to Russian hackers and trolls. That way the elites buy themselves a little time to see if they can figure things out. Maybe there's another avatar of the mainstream, like Barack Obama, waiting in the wings. Maybe there is a high-tech fix to filter and censor all that social media traffic.

Scott and Eddy describe rapid response team East Stratfor, established by the European Union, and its work to combat Fake News. It is clear, given the volume of online traffic, that it is a futile effort:
The East Stratcom team is the first to admit that it is outgunned: The task is overwhelming, the volume of reports immense, the support to combat them scant.
The team tries to debunk bogus items in real time on Facebook and Twitter and publishes daily reports and a weekly newsletter on fake stories to its more than 12,000 followers on social media.
But its list of 2,500 fake reports is small compared with the daily churn across social media. Catching every fake news story would be nearly impossible, and the fake reports the team does combat routinely get a lot more viewers than its myth-busting efforts.
East Stratcom is purely a communications exercise. Still, team members, most of whom speak Russian, have received death threats, and a Czech member of the team has twice been accused on Russian television of espionage.
The team in Brussels is not the only force in Europe fighting the problem. Similar groups are being created from Finland to the Czech Republic to disprove online hoaxes, state agencies are improving online security to counter potential hacking attacks and European news media outlets are expanding fact-checking teams to counter false reports.
Though the effort is futile, it does allow for the mainstream media to print and broadcast about the Fake News phenomenon. In the Scott-Eddy story Emmanuel Macron is singled out as a Fake News target, as is Angela Merkel:
In Germany, where Chancellor Angela Merkel is facing tough competition ahead of elections in September, the country’s domestic intelligence service already has reported a sharp rise in so-called phishing attacks in recent months aimed at political parties and members of the country’s Parliament. 
They attribute these efforts to the hacking group known as Fancy Bear, or APT 28, which American intelligence agencies linked to the hacking of the Democratic National Committee before the presidential election. Both American and German intelligence officials believe the group is operated by the G.R.U., the Russian military intelligence service.
It is always a good day for The New York Times when it can remind its readers that the DNC was hacked by Fancy Bear.

Besides performing an indispensable "public diplomacy" role by inflating an Oz-like Fake News specter, groups like East Strator are the camel's nose in the tent of the tech giants:
The German government is weighing potential hefty fines for tech giants like Google and Facebook, whose platforms allow false stories to be quickly circulated. The companies insist that they cannot be held responsible because they do not generate the stories.
Hans-Georg Maassen, the head of Germany’s domestic intelligence service, said that although there was no “smoking gun,” Russia was likely to be involved in the increase in online misinformation aimed at destabilizing German politics.
“What makes cyberattacks so sexy for foreign powers is that it is nearly impossible to find a smoking gun,” Mr. Maassen said in an interview with Phoenix TV Feb. 12. “It is always possible to cover your tracks and operate undercover.”
American tech giants also have stepped in after they were accused of not doing enough to counter false reports on their platforms, accusations that Facebook, Google and other companies deny. They are now funding initiatives in the United States, France and elsewhere to flag fake news online and remove posts if they are found to violate companies’ terms of use or local laws.
“This isn’t just about debunking falsehoods,” said Jenni Sargent, the managing director of First Draft News, a nonprofit that is partly funded by Google and expanding rapidly in France ahead of the country’s elections, as well as across Europe and beyond. “What we’re trying to do is to deal with the content as opposed to the source.”
Such efforts across Europe have gained momentum since the United States’ presidential election.
This of course is surveillance and censorship. It is an enormous task for the tech giants. Their censorship bots are going to have to get much more refined. But by that time it will too late. The neoliberal center is splintering faster than can be managed. What the elites need is something like the Chinese have, a Great Firewall. Can the deep state pull it off. Not under present circumstances.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Hippies vs. Punks: The Lemonheads' It's a Shame About Ray (1992)

I left my apartment building a little before 7:20, as I do every weekday morning, on Valentine's Day, and what was there to greet me when I stepped out on the avenue? Light!

Last year at this time, maybe a few weeks sooner, I noticed the return of the light, at the same time as was I was re-examining the first four Lemonheads albums, and quite abruptly I felt not so bad about myself.

Seeking to recapture that feeling, Valentine's Day I launched myself in an immersion of It's a Shame About Ray (1992). I happened to have it on my iPod knowing that I might want to pick up where I left off last winter.

What I remember about listening to It's a Shame when it was first released late spring of 1992 is, in fact, light. My buddy Mark and I, home from work, were drinking gin. The windows were flung open and June light filled my apartment. Mark was talking about a woman he had just started to date while "Alison's Starting to Happen" blasted out of the stereo speakers.

It was a moment of generational certitude. People forget. Reaganism was bankrupt by June of 1992. Unemployment kept rising (though Mark and I weren't feeling it because we both had steady jobs), and Bush looked cooked. The Dems were licking their chops. They were about to nominate a bright and shiny "New Democrat" known as "Slick Willie."

For those of us in our 20s who voted and read the newspapers, that was all fine. But what was really exciting was that underground, indie record labels like SST, Alternative TentaclesHomestead, Touch and Go, Sub Pop and TAANG! were on the verge of a major invasion of the majors. All that Punk we listened to and lived by in the 1980s was bleeding into the mainstream in the form of Grunge, exterminating the headbanger hair bands. 

Nineteen-ninety-two was the zenith. The next year would be the asteroid impact with negligible records like Blood Sugar Sex Magik,  Blind Melon, and Pocket Full of Kryptonite in heavy rotation for such long a time (years?) that those of us who knew better and wished to resist finally succumbed and purchased copies of Enter Sandman and Siamese Dream.

It's a Shame About Ray is more Pop Rock than Grunge. Produced by The Robbs at their Cherokee Studios, Ray is no Station to Station (1976). But I am surprised how often now that it is played on the local hipster radio station. "My Drug Buddy" is one of the station's staples.

At the time, the summer of 1992, I was disappointed. I was a Lemonheads true believer, and it seemed to me that Evan Dando had purged the rest of the band members and gone Hollywood. He appeared on the cover of SPIN making out with indie film star Adrienne Shelly.

After reading Everett True's The Lemonheads (1994), "A Melody Maker Book," on Saturday I can say that my assessment was fairly accurate.

The story about Ray is that the band, following a mere 11,000 Lovey copies sold (compared to 30,000 for Lick released by independent TAANG!) headed Down Under for one last tour. There Dando discovered himself.  Thanks to a lot of MDMA, surfing, songwriting help from Smudge frontman Tom Morgan and good old Aussie hospitality, Dando was able to piece together an album's worth (30 minutes) of material. Founding member, and my personal favorite, Jesse Peretz was out. Aussie Nic Dalton was in. Drummer David Ryan remained.

But the real story of It's a Shame About Ray is that it was headed in the direction of Lovey -- meaning, another dud -- until the the band was approached to do a cover of Simon & Garfunkel's "Mrs. Robinson" (1968) for a new video release of The Graduate (1967), one of the seminal Hollywood films of the '60s cultural revolution. The single took off. Ray was re-released with "Mrs. Robinson" as a bonus track. The album started moving up the charts, eventually reaching #68 on the Billboard 200 for 1993. It did much better in the UK (#33) and Australia (#23).

Though I was disappointed by the bubble-gum quality of a lot of the songs, part of me was foolishly proud of Dando. It wasn't but a few years earlier that I was standing next to him at an empty CBGBs. Now he was making out bare-chested with a beautiful actress on the cover of a national mass-circulation magazine, not to mention partying hard with Hollywood stars at Johnny Depp's Viper Room.

Youth will be served in its boundless hope and dead-end arrogance. When I want to remember what that feeling feels like I think about that June evening in 1992, drinking gin, and my buddy Mark bathed in light talking about carnal delicacies that would soon be his.

Immersed in Ray all last week what became apparent to me is that most of the songs are actually a lot sadder than they seemed when originally ingested back in the early '90s. All the demos that are included in the 2008 Rhino re-issue of the album make this plain. It's stoner music, a sonic account of a young man equipped with the slimmest of defenses confronted with the inevitable assimilation to a brutal world yet hoping nonetheless . . . waiting to be saved. (The demo version of "Rudderless" captures this.)

The genius of It's a Shame About Ray is The Robbs' production -- to take all those downer stoner songs and make them uptempo and sunshiny Pop.

My favorite track though is the mid-tempo "Rudderless." "Hope in my past." The honest statement of a confused young man waiting for recognition buttressed by a solid Grunge guitar and topped off by a fragmenting deep space Sonic Youth guitar effect at the end:

Saturday, February 18, 2017

David Brooks Relishes Soft Coup Underway

Part of an op-ed page that was strewn with demands for an independent counsel to investigate the Trump administration for treason, David Brooks' column yesterday, "What a Failed Trump Administration Looks Like," explicitly acknowledges what is commonly accepted on the various websites branded as Fake News portals by the ludicrous PropOrNot, that the permanent government, the deep state, is engaged in a campaign of across-the-board sabotage of Donald Trump's presidency. If anyone should know it is David Brooks. He is a paragon of the governing elite.

As Brooks notes,
The Civil Service has a thousand ways to ignore or sit on any presidential order. The court system has given itself carte blanche to overturn any Trump initiative, even on the flimsiest legal grounds. The intelligence community has only just begun to undermine this president. 
President Trump can push all the pretty buttons on the command deck of the Starship Enterprise, but don’t expect anything to actually happen, because they are not attached.
But as Brooks points out:
Everything about Trump that appalls 65 percent of America strengthens him with the other 35 percent, and he can ride that group for a while. Even after these horrible four weeks, Republicans on Capitol Hill are not close to abandoning their man. 
The likelihood is this: We’re going to have an administration that has morally and politically collapsed, without actually going away.
In many ways this is exactly what is called for. The United States is a brigand that destroys states; that is all it can do at this point. It answers to the oil-rich despotic Arab sheikhdoms, the Likudniks in apartheid Israel, and the insulated, brittle governing neoliberal elites ensconced in Western capitals. It is morally bankrupt and survives by purveying lies, like "Russian aggression in the Crimea." The United States needs a reboot, a thorough overhaul, a revolution. Barring that, it needs to collapse -- for the greater health of the planet.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Trump's Press Conference Yesterday

Trump's news conference yesterday was an impressive performance. What struck me was at the very beginning, before he begins to address the reporters, his kitchen cabinet -- Bannon, Kushner, Pence, Priebus -- files in to their seats in the front row, and they look isolated, forlorn, like suspects in a police lineup. Clearly there is a war going on. It's Trump against the permanent government.

What Trump has going for him is that he is an accomplished pitch man. But his greatest asset is the loathing that the majority feels towards the media and the governing elite. Trump can lie and cajole and play off the elites for a long, potentially very long, time.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

What Putin Really Said Today

Several times this morning I've seen references to a Reuters story ("Putin says Russian, U.S. intelligence agencies should restore ties") about Putin's address today to the Federal Security Service (FSB) board. But this is all the story says so far (Reuters usually updates its dispatches throughout the day):
Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday it was in the interests of both Russia and the United States to restore communications between their respective intelligence agencies.
"It's in everyone's interest to resume dialogue between the intelligence agencies of the United States and other members of NATO," Putin said, addressing Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB).
"It's absolutely clear that in the area of counter-terrorism all relevant governments and international groups should work together."
(Reporting by Jack Stubbs; Writing by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Andrew Osborn)
There is a fuller account on the President of Russia website. You'll notice that what Putin said about restoring ties between the U.S. deep state ("intelligence agencies") and NATO was preceded by a largely unassailable account of NATO expansionism and a reminder that at last year's summit in Warsaw Russian containment was spelled out as the raison d'ĂȘtre of the alliance for the first time since 1989:

President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon.
These annual FSB Board meetings give us a chance to meet and not only thoroughly analyse and review the results of the agency’s work over the period, but also to discuss at length all important national security issues in general and outline the priorities for the immediate future and the longer-term.
The FSB plays a key part in protecting our constitutional order and our country’s sovereignty, and in protecting our people from threats at home and abroad.
Let me say from the start that last year’s results were positive and show good development. This concerns your work to counter terrorism and extremism, a series of successful counterintelligence operations, your efforts to combat economic crime, and other areas.
You ensured a high standard of security for major public events, including the State Duma election and regional and local elections.
I would like to thank both the executives and staff for their conscientious attitude towards their work and their timely and efficient performance of their duties.
At the same time, demands on the quality and results of your work grow constantly. The global situation has not become any more stable or better over the past year. On the contrary, many existing threats and challenges have only become more acute.
Military-political and economic rivalry between global and regional policy makers and between individual countries has increased. We see bloody conflicts continue in a number of countries in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa. International terrorist groups, essentially terrorist armies, receiving tacit and sometimes even open support from some countries, take active part in these conflicts.
At the NATO summit last July in Warsaw, Russia was declared the main threat to the alliance for the first time since 1989, and NATO officially proclaimed containing Russia its new mission. It is with this aim that NATO continues its expansion. This expansion was already underway earlier, but now they believe they have more serious reasons for doing so. They have stepped up the deployment of strategic and conventional arms beyond the national borders of the principal NATO member states.
They are provoking us constantly and are trying to draw us into confrontation. We see continued attempts to interfere in our internal affairs in a bid to destabilise the social and political situation in Russia itself.
We also see the recent serious flare-up in southeast Ukraine. This escalation pursues the clear aim of preventing the Minsk Agreements from going ahead. The current Ukrainian authorities are obviously not seeking a peaceful solution to this very complex problem and have decided to opt for the use of force instead. What is more, they speak openly about organising sabotage and terrorism, particularly in Russia. Obviously, this is a matter of great concern.
The events and circumstances I have mentioned require our security and intelligence services, especially the Federal Security Service, to concentrate their utmost attention and effort on the paramount task of fighting terrorism.
We have already seen that our intelligence services dealt some serious blows to terrorists and their accomplices. Last year’s results confirm this: the number of terrorism related crimes has decreased.
Preventive work has also brought results. The FSB and other security agencies, with the National Antiterrorist Committee acting as coordinator, prevented 45 terrorism related crimes, including 16 planned terrorist attacks. You deserve special gratitude for this.
You need to continue your active efforts to identify and block terrorist groups’ activity, eliminate their financial base, prevent the activities of their emissaries from abroad and their dangerous activity on the internet, and take into account in this work Russian and international experience in this area.
The murder of our ambassador to Turkey was a terrible crime that particularly highlighted the need to protect our citizens and missions abroad. I ask you to work together with the Foreign Ministry and the Foreign Intelligence Service to take additional measures to ensure their safety.
You must also work to take our counterterrorism cooperation with partners abroad to a new level, despite the difficulties that we see in various areas of international life. It is a priority, of course, to intensify work with our partners in organisations such as the UN, the CSTO, and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.
It is in our common interests to restore dialogue with the US intelligence services and with other NATO member countries. It is not our fault that these ties were broken off and are not developing. It is very clear that all responsible countries and international groups should work together on counterterrorism, because even simply exchanging information on terrorists’ financing channels and sources and on people involved in or suspected of links with terrorism can substantially improve the results of our common efforts.
Our priorities include firmly suppressing extremism. Security methods must go hand-in-hand with constant prevention work. It is essential to prevent extremism from drawing young people into its criminal networks, and to form an overall firm rejection of nationalism, xenophobia, and aggressive radicalism. In this context, of great importance is open dialogue with civil society institutions and representatives of Russia’s traditional religions.
It looks like we're at the beginning of a period of deep state turbulence the likes of which we haven't seen since Watergate.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

"On Our Way" to Where?

Yesterday Adam Nossiter, the Gray Lady's man in Paris, had another story ("Emmanuel Macron Steps Into France’s Political Void") in the national edition puffing Emmanuel Macron's candidacy for the French presidency.

Macron is a lightweight former banker who abandoned the Socialists after a short stint as Hollande's Minister of the Economy to whip up a new party, En Marche! ("On Our Way"), to run for president. Nossiter points out in one of the few sour notes of the article that
When Mr. Macron started his campaign, snickers about his new movement’s name — “En Marche,” or, “On Our Way” — all but drowned out whatever message the young minister was trying to project. “On our way — to what?” the skeptics asked. 
That questions remains largely unanswered even as he now gains traction. 
A small stream of Socialist members of Parliament have signed on, despite threats of excommunication from the party, as well as some business and political leaders.
Where Macron is leading is exactly where we are at -- peak neoliberalism. In other words, En Marche! Ici! ("On Our Way. Here.") That's why the Gray Lady is boosting his candidacy. She would love to discover another Obamaesque politician -- a gifted grifter who can line up the rubes and get them into the big top; keep things the way they are even as everything disintegrates all around us.

Another interesting aspect of Nossiter's story is that the conventional wisdom in France is that Le Pen can't win:
Despite Ms. Le Pen’s best efforts to remake her party, the National Front has traditionally been too toxic for a majority of French to embrace. So even though she currently leads in the polls, hardly anyone expects her to make it through the second round of the country’s two-stage voting this spring to become president.
Hardly anyone, myself included, thought Trump would win.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Here We Go Again: Fabricating a Casus Belli with Syria

Last week it was Amnesty International's "HUMAN SLAUGHTERHOUSE: MASS HANGINGS AND EXTERMINATION AT SAYDNAYA PRISON, SYRIA," thoroughly demolished by Rick Sterling in his "Amnesty International Stokes Syrian War."

Then yesterday it was the Atlantic Council's "Breaking Aleppo," which, according to The New York Times' Michael Gordon, the man who helped bring us the 2003 invasion of Iraq, "The analysis shows that the hospital, contrary to claims by a Russian general, was bombed multiple times. It indicates that Russian aircraft used incendiary munitions and cluster bombs, despite the Kremlin’s denials, and concludes that Syrian forces used chlorine gas on a far greater scale than is commonly believed."

But all one needs to know about "Breaking Aleppo" comes midway through the article: "Much of the analysis of the photos and social media was done by [Eliot] Higgins, a Britain-based researcher who founded the investigative website bellingcat.com." To mention that Eliot Higgins is a principal author of the report (a guy who is clearly a government agent) without mentioning his role in using spurious arguments and bogus evidence to blame the Syrian government for the 2013 chemical attack in East Ghouta, a Damascus suburb, or his role in arguing for Russian complicity in the downing of MH17 in Eastern Ukraine is clearly misleading to the Gray Lady's readers. Once again with The New York Times we are in the realm of crass banana-fingered propaganda.

Now comes the absurd "Syria: Coordinated Chemical Attacks on Aleppo," released yesterday by Human Rights Watch (HRW). Rick Gladstone, like his colleague Michael Gordon, another spook posing as a reporter, writes breathlessly in "Syria Used Chlorine Bombs Systematically in Aleppo, Report Says" -- the opening paragraph -- that
Syrian military helicopters systematically dumped canisters of chlorine gas, a banned weapon, on residential areas of Aleppo at least eight times late last year in the final weeks of the battle to retake the city from rebels, Human Rights Watch said in a detailed study released Monday.
But skim through the report --  it is not hard to do -- and for all the video links and purported photographic evidence there is not one image of a Syrian helicopter dumping chlorine canisters! An example of the willful suspension of disbelief that Human Rights Watch is asking of us can be found below:
Omar Arnaout, a photographer, said that he saw a helicopter drop an object near a cemetery in Qadi Askar at about 3 p.m. on November 28:
"Suddenly, yellow smoke started spreading followed by the smell of chlorine a few minutes later. It’s the smell of the liquid that we use to clean toilet, but more intense, much more intense. People were unable to breathe, they are coughing. Some children were throwing up. The smell was everywhere."
Arnaout said that about 20 civilians were injured in the attack and taken to hospitals for treatment.
If he is a photographer, why didn't he take a picture of the helicopter? I guess he didn't have his camera with him. Then why in this instance, which is supposed to document a Syrian helicopter dropping a chlorine bomb, mention that he is a photographer? Clearly it is a rhetorical sleight of hand meant to convey to the reader photographic evidence where there is none.

The HRW report is chock full of everything we've seen plenty of times before -- pictures of spent shell casings, eyewitness testimony from jihadis posing as citizen activists, photos of babies in emergency rooms receiving oxygen.

The overall idea is to reboot the Western war on Syria now that the Syrian-Russian-Iranian coalition is about to conquer the Western-backed jihadis; that, and block the Trump administration from working with Russia. With Flynn out it looks like the U.S. posture to Syria will be identical to the one during Obamatime.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Neoconned Again

Lately it seems as if the newspapers have returned to 2014: Stories about fighting in Eastern Ukraine; an incendiary report by Amnesty International alleging Syrian government crimes against humanity; a tendentious article in the Gray Lady which creates the impression that there is smoldering support for ISIS in Sunni Iraq.

Then there is this little gem by Gardiner Harris, "As Ties With U.S. Cool, Europeans Look to Forge Other Alliances," about the EU foreign minister Federica Mogherini's Foggy Bottom sit-down with the Secretary of State from ExxonMobil Rex Tillerson: "On Russian sanctions, she said President Trump’s policy was essentially identical to former President Barack Obama’s and to Europe’s."

It was foolish to expect that a Trump administration would be substantially different from prior ones. Sure, it is welcome news to see that Trump blocked Tillerson's choice of neocon archduke Elliot Abrams for his deputy, but the overall trajectory is still neocon. Robert Parry has lately been calling this out. What we're going to get, and no doubt what the Saudis have been promised (in order to let go of Islamic State), is increasing conflict with Iran; that, and increasing conflict with China. According to this morning's Situation Report:
The Pentagon wants to increase the number of freedom of navigation operations it conducts near man-made Chinese islands in the disputed territory of the South China Sea. Anonymous military officials told Navy Times that the carrier strike group attached to the USS Carl Vinson would carry out the operations if approved by the Trump administration. The operations began under the Obama administration and involve sailing within 12 nautical mile of the islands in order to content Beijing's claims of exclusive territorial sovereignty surrounding them.
The next four years are going to be a real neocon roller coaster.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Hippies vs. Punks: Bob Dylan's "Talkin' World War III Blues"

For months my iPod wouldn't sync with my laptop. So for months I listened to the same however-so-many gigabytes of music (which is one of the reasons that Hippies vs. Punks posts have all but disappeared).

Sometime in December this problem corrected itself. When I re-synced my iPod I loaded it with every Bob Dylan record in my library. The idea was to re-explore Dylan in light of his being feted with a Nobel Prize in Literature. And it has been a revelation.

There are so many avenues to travel. The first Dylan song in this re-exploration that exploded in my brain (during a New Year's Day jog) was "Idiot Wind" off Blood on the Tracks (1975). Last night walking home from work it was "Talkin' World War III Blues" from "In Concert – Brandeis University 1963." The song is originally found on side two of "The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan" (1963).

I think it is a fair argument to make that without "The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan" there is no super-historical Dylan and hence no Nobel.

What is singular about the Brandeis concert is the power of Dylan's bellows. He is flat-out fog-horning each verse. It is an amazing performance, reminding the listener of the absurdity of current events while feeling more grounded and sane imagining the dream of this young man.

I was particularly tickled by
Well, I seen a Cadillac window uptown And there was nobody aroun’ I got into the driver’s seat And I drove down 42nd Street In my Cadillac. Good car to drive after a war 
 As Dylan's career progressed his writing lost much of its mirth.

What's interesting about the video at the top of the post is all the flannel and work clothes populating the bohemian coffee house television set. It looks exactly as we dressed in my California Hardcore youth of the early to mid-1980s.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Warning Signs in the Base: Trump Transitions to W

What looked like a certainty in January, that Obamacare would be repealed within weeks, is now anything but certain. Tea Party activists are mau-mauing Republicans in Congress just as they did Democrats in Obamatime. (See the delightful "From ‘Repeal’ to ‘Repair’: Campaign Talk on Health Law Meets Reality" by Michael Shear and Robert Pear.)

The GOP is at the inflection point promised by Trump on the campaign trail -- to scrap the Affordable Care Act and cancel health coverage for tens of millions -- and it finds itself wanting to think things over for a little while. Trump is now talking about years instead of weeks:
In a brief aside in an interview with Bill O’Reilly of Fox News broadcast before the Super Bowl on Sunday, Mr. Trump went further than he ever has in acknowledging the reality that any hope of quickly replacing the Affordable Care Act has been dashed. 
“Yes, I would like to say by the end of the year, at least the rudiments, but we should have something within the year and the following year,” the president said.
Buyer's remorse is bound to settle in with the Trumpian base. Tomahawking Obamacare was litmus test number one.

Realignment in foreign policy was also right up there. There has to be buyer's remorse there too as Trump bends over backwards to satisfy the Gulf Arab monarchies. Trump's decision to list the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization is driven by the Saudis et al. According to Peter Baker in "White House Weighs Terrorist Designation for Muslim Brotherhood":
In his short time in office, Mr. Trump has already come under pressure from Arab allies eager for such a designation. He had phone conversations with Mr. Sisi; Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi; and King Salman of Saudi Arabia. But he also spoke with Mr. Erdogan on Tuesday.
A top Arab official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity according to diplomatic protocol, declined to discuss what was said on the calls, but added, “It’s safe to assume since U.A.E., Saudi and Egypt have all designated the M.B. as a terrorist organization, that decision would be welcome by those countries and several others in the region.”
Soon it will become apparent to white rural America that Trump is really no change agent; rather, he is the Second Coming of George W. Bush. And George W. Bush was extremely unpopular.

The approval of the Dakota Access Pipeline is also a litmus test, but one that is a huge opportunity for the left to counterattack. If the left proves supine and easily rolled, Trump will be able to make his transition to a W.-like presidency of incoherence and ineffectiveness, settling in for four years of more of the same. But if the left's counterattack is robust and victorious, that's more alienation for the Trumpian base.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Two Must-Reads by Patrick Cockburn and Gareth Porter

A couple must-reads from the weekend are Patrick Cockburn's "Misreporting Iraq and Syria" and an interview of Gareth Porter by Dennis Bernstein, "The Double Standard on Yemen’s Suffering."

Cockburn drives home the complete breakdown of journalistic standards in the Western media when it came to reporting on East Aleppo. Qaeda-spread rumors of atrocities perpetrated by Syrian government forces were immediately and uncritically whisked to the front page.

The big takeaway from Cockburn's piece is that Western reporting on Syria in general and East Aleppo in particular has been outsourced to jihadis. No independent, secular journalists remain in "opposition" territory. So for every Anne Barnard story you read where she communicates with an "anti-government activist" via Skype, that's likely a Nusra fighter being featured in the "newspaper of record." As Cockburn reminds us,
Since at least 2013 it has been too dangerous for journalists to visit rebel-held areas because of well-founded fears that they will be kidnapped and held to ransom or murdered, usually by decapitation. Journalists who took the risk paid a heavy price: James Foley was kidnapped in November 2012 and executed by Islamic State in August 2014. Steven Sotloff was kidnapped in Aleppo in August 2013 and beheaded soon after Foley. But there is tremendous public demand to know what is happening in such places, and news providers, almost without exception, have responded by delegating their reporting to local media and political activists, who now appear regularly on television screens across the world. In areas controlled by people so dangerous no foreign journalist dare set foot among them, it has never been plausible that unaffiliated local citizens would be allowed to report freely.
In East Aleppo any reporting had to be done under licence from one of the Salafi-jihadi groups which dominated the armed opposition and controlled the area – including Jabhat al-Nusra, formerly known as the Syrian branch of al-Qaida. What happens to people who criticise, oppose or even act independently of these extremist groups was made clear in an Amnesty International report published last year and entitled ‘Torture Was My Punishment’: Abduction, Torture and Summary Killings under Armed Group Rule in Aleppo and Idlib. Ibrahim, whom al-Nusra fighters hung from the ceiling by his wrists while they beat him for holding a meeting to commemorate the 2011 uprising without their permission, is quoted as saying: ‘I heard and read about the government security forces’ torture techniques. I thought I would be safe from that now that I am living in an opposition-held area. I was wrong. I was subjected to the same torture techniques but at the hands of Jabhat al-Nusra.’
The fact that groups linked to al-Qaida had a monopoly on the supply of news from East Aleppo doesn’t necessarily mean that the reports in the press about the devastating effects of shelling and bombing were untrue. Pictures of flattened buildings and civilians covered in cement dust weren’t fabricated. But they were selective. It’s worth recalling that – according to UN figures – there were between 8000 and 10,000 rebel fighters in East Aleppo, yet almost none of the videos on TV ever showed any armed men. Western broadcasters commonly referred to the groups defending East Aleppo as ‘the opposition’ with no mention of al-Qaida or its associated groups. There was an implicit assumption that all the inhabitants of East Aleppo were firmly opposed to Assad and supported the insurgents, yet it’s striking that when offered a choice in mid-December only a third of evacuees– 36,000 – asked to be taken to rebel-held Idlib. The majority – 80,000 – elected to go to government-held territory in West Aleppo. This isn’t necessarily because they expected to be treated well by the government authorities – it’s just that they believed life under the rebels would be even more dangerous. In the Syrian civil war, the choice is often between bad and worse.
The second half of Cockburn's article is devoted to the media blackout of the U.S.-led siege of Mosul, what Cockburn calls the largest urban combat theater post-WWII.

Media blackout is one of the points Gareth Porter makes in his interview. The Saudi's are starving Yemen with critical assistance of the United States. Thirty-one percent of children under five are suffering from acute malnutrition, a.k.a., starvation. Without U.S. logistical support the Saudi coalition could not maintain its blockade. Do news consumers in the U.S. get treated to that fact? Hardly ever.

Porter concludes the interview by mentioning how Iran is especially impacted by Trump's immigration ban and how deeply intertwined Saudi Arabia is with the U.S. deep state, which is in turn largely privatized:
DB: Now, I notice that the Saudis didn’t make the Trump [immigration] ban list. Although there would be a lot of good reasons why they might be on it. Can you put that in context?
GP: Yeah. If there was a ban that reflected the degree of risk, relative degree of risk, let’s not call it the absolute degree, but the relative degree of risk from people trying to gain entry into the United States from the Middle East, you would certainly have to say that Saudi Arabia was the top risk because of the number of jihadists who have come from Saudi Arabia, and have gone to, of course, Syria, as well as Iraq, to participate in those jihadist campaigns.
And, of course, as you say, Saudi Arabia is not included. The fact is, of course, that that list of countries whose people are banned from coming into the United States is entirely political, yet includes Iran which is, of course, not a risk at all. There’s simply no basis for saying that there’s the slightest risk from Iran because it has not, in fact, been at war with the United States. Because it has been an ally of the United States against the jihadists in those countries where the United States faces the greatest risks… the countries from which the Unites States faces the greatest risks.
DB: But that hasn’t stopped the Trump administration from going and sort of implementing its policies particularly focused on… there are a number of Iranians now really directly impacted, right?
GP: That’s right. I mean, Iranians have been severely impacted by this. Students, of course, the largest number of graduate students in American universities from the rest of the world, as I understand it, are Iranians, at this point, certainly higher education, the higher levels of education. 
And so, many, many Iranians now have been caught in trying to get back to the United States, or who needed to visit home, from American universities, and this was a very serious problem for them. But I would just add that, you know, clearly this administration is not basing its first major foreign policy decision on the situation in the Middle East, or the degree of risk. But it’s basing it on the appeal to the constituency that elected Donald Trump.
DB: Alright, and just, again, to step back a little bit, the situation on the ground in Yemen at this moment is dire. And, is there any attempt at a truce, a treaty? There’s a lot of focus on Syria.
GP: Right. There have been negotiations going on now for many months, between the Houthis on one side, and the Yemeni government that was put into power, put back into power, by the Saudis and their coalition, after the war began.
Well, after the war began, these negotiations have been stalled because the Saudi supported officials in those negotiations have essentially refused to allow the Houthis to basically hold onto their weapons, until the process is completed. I mean, they have been demanding a prior giving up of weapons before the settlement is reached, in terms of the political part of it. So, we’re still not close to, as I understand it, to actually having a peace agreement, and a durable ceasefire.
And the United States, you know, the Obama administration, was at least trying to push the Saudis to be a bit more reasonable. But, I’m sorry to say that the problem we face here is that the U.S. government, (and I’m quite sure that the Trump administration will not be very different, if at all, from the Obama administration in this regard) the permanent government, the national security government or the “permanent war government,” as I call it, of the United States is so dependent, or shall we say so cozy with the Saudis, particularly, that they have basically screwed up Syria, they have destabilized and caused a terrible humanitarian crisis in Syria, then they went and did the same thing in Yemen, by supporting the Saudis.
Why did they do it? Because the Pentagon, the CIA and the NSA all have sweetheart deals with the Saudis which are worth a great deal of money. Both sale of arms and basically selling of intelligence services to the Saudis are at the heart of this. And also, of course, there’s access to bases that… at least the base in Bahrain, the naval base in Bahrain, which the United States covets, the U.S. Navy covets. And, therefore, the Saudis control that base, and that’s another thing that the permanent war state isn’t unwilling to give up.
DB: And this is big business in the context of the Pentagon.
GP: It is.
DB: By the way, what are the corporations… who are we talking about now… who are happy about this?
GP: Well, you’re talking about all of the major arms suppliers. The big four, the big five of aircraft, aerospace companies who have been able to sell more weapon systems to the Saudis because of the political relationship that exists between the United States and the Saudi government. Those people are obviously very concerned, and very happy about the situation. But when you talk about big business it’s not just the private companies.
What I have found, just to summarize… the conclusion that I’ve come to in my study of the permanent war state, is that what we used to think of as a state bureaucracy has morphed into a combination of state bureaucracy and private contractors. They have merged so totally that there’s no distinction anymore. The lines have been blurred. And the Pentagon and the CIA and the NSA are all now, basically, more like corporations than they are public services, or state services, to the American people.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Super Bowl LI: Le Pen and Anarchism Beckon

Many times during the bizarre first-ever overtime Super Bowl I found my eyes looking past the television to the snow beginning to fall outside the window, particularly during Lady Gaga's "Cirque du Soleil" halftime extravaganza. Featuring drones, a truncated opening salute to the Fatherland, twists and turns in an acrobat's harness, the usual horde of "Rhythm Nation" dancers gesticulating to supermarket pop, and a faceless throng wiggling glow sticks beneath the parapet, I preferred to watch the trees turning white.

The game itself was bizarre because the Falcons so completely manhandled New England in the first half plus parts of the third quarter that I thought we might be in store for a delicious blow-out of the celebrated, super-historic Belichik-Brady Patriots. Then the Falcons returned to earth. The young, fast defense lost its legs and MVP quarterback Matty Ice reverted to his playoff form of prior seasons and melted. New England won the toss to begin overtime and promptly drove down the field and scored the game winning touchdown. Atlanta's defense was so cooked at this point it looked like a walk-through drill at practice. Depressing.

Never before has a team come from so far behind, the score was 28-3 in the third quarter, in the Super Bowl. Superficially, since Trump has a tight bond with Belichik, Brady, Gronkowski and owner Bob Kraft, one would have to conclude that the outcome is a hardy reaffirmation of Trumpism.

My assessment that a Trump administration cannot be sustained might have to be amended. It appears that Trump is already making adjustments, trimming his sails, currying favor with the deep state. He is settling in for the long haul. And it is likely he will get a boost from France this spring.

Predictions for the second round are now of a Le Pen-Macron contest, which is basically a recapitulation of the U.S. general election. Macron is the stand-in for Hillary and the enervated neoliberal center; Le Pen, Trump, and waving the flag of a nostalgic nationalism. Macron, the former Rothschild banker, in fact is campaigning against Trump ("Marine Le Pen Echoes Trump’s Bleak Populism in French Campaign Kickoff," by Adam Nossiter):
The populist Ms. Le Pen, 48, offered up a forbidding dystopia in urgent need of radical upheaval, much like Mr. Trump did. The boyish Mr. Macron — he is 39 and has created a nonparty political movement that has suddenly caught fire — spoke of “reconciling” France and of “working together,” and repeatedly addressed more than 10,000 supporters in a giant stadium as “my friends.” France would certainly stay in the European Union, in his view, and there would be none of Ms. Le Pen’s war on globalization.
The crowd spilled onto the grounds outside the stadium, forcing many to watch Mr. Macron on huge screens. He took a backhanded slap at Mr. Trump, promising refuge in enlightened France to American scientists, academics and companies “fighting obscurantism” at home. They would have, “as of next May,” the date of the presidential runoff, “a homeland, and that will be France,” Mr. Macron promised.
The candidates both present themselves as outsiders — Mr. Macron served in the Socialist government but is not a Socialist, while Ms. Le Pen’s party has never held power — but the crowds at the two rallies were a study in contrast. Judging by a dozen-odd interviews, Mr. Macron’s group was peppered with teachers, doctors, academics, civil servants and men who described themselves as “heads of companies.”
In contrast, Ms. Le Pen’s crowd was full of factory workers and former soldiers, and it adored her thundering opening line: “I’m against the Right of money, and the Left of money. I’m the candidate of the people!”
We know how this game ends.

That's why there has been a steady moan in the media about the fate of Germany in this new Trump world of ours. This morning's installment is Max Fisher's "Germany Prepares for Turbulence in the Trump Era." Some Christian Democrats are calling for a massive militarization of Germany to counteract a perceived U.S. retreat from confrontation with Russian.

What gets left out in all this "whither Deutschland?" hand wringing is an acknowledgement that prior to the 2014 coup in Kiev Germany's development was moving eastward. Obama's New Cold War ended that.

What we have to keep in mind is that the refulgent nationalism presently cloaking the West is brittle and thin. It was on display in pregame to the Super Bowl. It is a brazen celebration of militarism -- a live video feed of soldiers watching the game in Kuwait; a flyover of Air Force fighter-bomber jets; Tom Brady mouthing the words to the national anthem for the Fox TV cameras; a superannuated G.W. Bush wheeled out to midfield for the the coin toss -- that is razor thin in its superficiality; it is all held together by a consumerism that is rapidly growing dim, captured beautifully by a Nina Simone recording played to a Ford commercial.

Make no mistake about it. It is a doomed society.

A glimmer of this was captured in a surprisingly balanced report on the blossoming of anarchist support in the United States. Found on the front page of The New York Times last Friday, Farah Stockman's "Anarchists Respond to Trump’s Inauguration, by Any Means Necessary" notes that
Anarchists also say their recent efforts have been wildly successful, both by focusing attention on their most urgent argument — that Mr. Trump poses a fascist threat — and by enticing others to join their movement.
“The number of people who have been showing up to meetings, the number of meetings, and the number of already-evolving plans for future actions is through the roof,” Legba Carrefour, who helped organize the so-called Disrupt J20 protests on Inauguration Day in Washington, said in an interview.
“Gained 1,000 followers in the last week,” trumpeted @NYCAntifa, an anti-fascist Twitter account in New York, on Jan. 24. “Pretty crazy for us as we’ve been active for many years with minimal attention. SMASH FASCISM!”
The movement even claims to be finding adherents far afield of major population centers. A participant in CrimethInc, a decades-old anarchist network, pointed to rising attendance at its meetings and activity cropping up in new places like Omaha.
“The Left ignores us. The Right demonizes us,” the anarchist website It’s Going Down boasted on Twitter. “Everyday we grow stronger.”
Little known to practitioners of mainstream American politics, militant anti-fascists make up a secretive culture closely associated with anarchists. Both reject social hierarchies as undemocratic and eschew the political parties as hopelessly corrupt, according to interviews with a dozen anarchists around the country. While some anarchists espouse nonviolence, others view property damage and even physical attacks on the far right as important tactics.
While extreme right-wing groups have been enthusiastic supporters of Mr. Trump, anti-fascists express deep disdain for the Democratic Party. And it is mutual, by and large: They amount to the left’s unwanted revolutionary stepchild, disowned for their tactics and ideology by all but the most radical politicians.
The neoliberal center is kaput.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Now for Trump the Inevitable About-Face

From "Trump Embraces Pillars of Obama’s Foreign Policy," by Mark Landler, Peter Baker and David Sanger. the inevitable:
WASHINGTON — President Trump, after promising a radical break with the foreign policy of Barack Obama, is embracing some key pillars of the former administration’s strategy, including warning Israel to curb settlement construction, demanding that Russia withdraw from Crimea and threatening Iran with sanctions for ballistic missile tests.
In the most startling shift, the White House issued an unexpected statement appealing to the Israeli government not to expand the construction of Jewish settlements beyond their current borders in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Such expansion, it said, “may not be helpful in achieving” the goal of peace.
At the United Nations, Ambassador Nikki R. Haley declared that the United States would not lift sanctions against Russia until it stopped destabilizing Ukraine and pulled troops out of Crimea.
On Iran, the administration is preparing economic sanctions similar to those the Obama administration imposed just over a year ago. The White House has also shown no indication that it plans to rip up Mr. Obama’s landmark nuclear deal, despite Mr. Trump’s withering criticism of it during the presidential campaign.
The New Cold War will be maintained, as will belligerence towards Iran and the U.S. charade of commitment to a Palestinian state; add to this counting off of Deep State pillars the "safe zones" in Syria and all pretense that Trump represents a change of course needs to be dropped.

Trump wants to rule; in order to do that he needs the sinews of the state at his command. He can't handle a rebellion on the streets at the same time there is a rebellion in the back offices of Foggy Bottom and Langley.

It will be interesting now that Trump is turning his battleship away from conflict with the Deep State to see how the prestige press treats all the various protests -- the water protectors, the women's marchers, the scientists on parade, the immigrant's rights rallies. The pessimist in me thinks that maybe not immediately but before too long the message from the mainstream media will be, "Okay folks. Let's pack it up and go home. You made your point. And you're looking kind of scattered and sounding whiny. You don't want to end up behind bars, do you?"

But while Trump's pirouette might earn him some allegiance from the Deep State his supporters are not going to be mollified merely by boorish behavior and hostile tweets,

Things have changed. People have rejected the ruling ideology of neoliberal redistribution of wealth. This is driven home by an article on British Parliament overwhelming backing Brexit (Stephen Castle, "Theresa May Gets Parliament’s Backing on ‘Brexit’ Bill"). It was just last June that the British Parliament overwhelming opposed Brexit:
The June 23 plebiscite, in which around 52 percent of those voting chose to leave, has transformed the Conservative Party, which had been split over a British exit, into an enthusiast for it.
Though the opposition Labour Party campaigned last year to remain, its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, is a lifelong critic of European integration and never seemed fully convinced about the pro-European case. On Wednesday, he instructed his lawmakers to vote to allow Brexit negotiations to start, an order that prompted a rebellion within his party.
Yet, that was limited to less than 50 people, because even Labour’s most ardent proponents of remaining know that some of their usual supporters ignored their advice and voted to leave.
That has provoked an almost existential crisis for Labour, one hinted at on Tuesday when Keir Starmer, the Labour politician responsible for dealing with the British exit, noted that two-thirds of Labour lawmakers represent constituencies that voted to leave in the referendum.
 The crisis will deepen.