Wednesday, May 31, 2017

En Marche! Puffery Ahead of June Legislative Elections

UPDATE II: Reuters says "Macron's party seen comfortably winning French parliamentary vote," based on the latest Harris/LCP poll. If you go to the Wikipedia page for the 2017 French legislative elections, En Marche! does appear to be running away with it. So I'll have to amend yesterday's skepticism with the thought that the French much be truly desperate/delusional to think that a Rothschild banker promising market-friendly fixes offers a path forward.

UPDATE:The Associated Press is reporting this morning, Thursday, June 1, in "The Latest: France says no trace of Russian hacking Macron," that 
The head of the French government’s cyber security agency, which investigated leaks from President Emmanuel Macron’s election campaign, says they found no trace of a notorious Russian hacking group behind the attack.
In an interview in his office Thursday with The Associated Press, Guillaume Poupard said the Macron campaign hack “was so generic and simple that it could have been practically anyone.”
He said they found no trace that the Russian hacking group known as APT28, blamed for other attacks including on the U.S. presidential campaign, was responsible.
Poupard is director general of the government cyber-defense agency known in France by its acronym, ANSSI. Its experts were immediately dispatched when documents stolen from the Macron campaign leaked online on May 5 in the closing hours of the presidential race.
Poupard says the attack’s simplicity “means that we can imagine that it was a person who did this alone. They could be in any country.”
Of course this was mentioned at the time of the alleged hack, but far down in the body of most accounts. Overwhelming the reporting accepted that Russia was up to its dirty tricks again. It just goes to show how you overtly "fake" the mainstream medium tilts these days.


To sample the blatant, over-the-top puffing of Emmanuel Macron check out Vox's "French President Emmanuel Macron just went after Russia — to Putin’s face":
“Russia Today (RT) and Sputnik,” [Macron] continued, “were organs of influence during this campaign which, on several occasions, told lies about myself and my campaign. ... Russia Today and Sputnik did not behave as media organizations and journalists, but as agencies of influence and propaganda, lying propaganda — no more, no less.”
Then he went further. He said France was prepared to use military force if Syria used chemical weapons again. Echoing similar language from German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Macron said he would be paying close attention to a recent wave of horrific violence against gay men in Chechnya.
Because of these comments, with Putin standing nearby, Macron is being hailed as a courageous leader. Talk about "propaganda, lying propaganda."

An all-hands-on-deck public-diplomacy project is underway to provide Macron a working majority for his infant En Marche! party in France's legislative elections in June. The Financial Times published a story, "Strong debut boosts Macron’s prospects in French national polls," the other day predicting that
Now polls suggest his cross-party movement, La République En Marche, will attract about 30 per cent of the vote in the first round of the election on June 11 — a 10-point gain in a month and putting the party within reach of winning an absolute majority in the run-off round on June 18.
FT then provides the following graphic:

Nowhere are the polls cited that form the basis for this tumescent projection. The CIA probably hasn't been this involved in a European election since Italy in 1948.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

North Korea's Nuclear Deterrent is Here to Stay

David Sanger and William Broad published a piece yesterday, "North Korean Tests Add Urgency for U.S. to Fix Defense Flaws," that read like a long lament. Given the recent success North Korea has had with solid-fuel rockets, the country's nuclear deterrent now has to be accepted. As Choe Sang-hun reports today, "North Korea Claims Technological Progress in Latest Missile Launch":
So far this year, North Korea has conducted nine ballistic missile tests, some of which analysts later said demonstrated new technologies. Its midrange Pukguksong-2 used solid fuel, eliminating the need for a lengthy fueling process, which means it can be rolled out from a concealed location and launched quickly. The intermediate-range Hwasong-12, which the North tested on May 14, had a longer range than any missile it had launched before.
Sunday's test was conducted from a mobile launcher. According to this morning's SitRep:
This week in North Korean launches. North Korean missile launches are becoming a weekly occurrence and this week's launch consists of what North Korea claims is a new, more accurate missile. The North fired the missile from a mobile tracked vehicle in Wonsan, on the country's eastern coast, raising the prospect that the missile in Sunday's launch may be the same one shown off in an April military parade in Pyongyang. South Korea's military identified the missile, which landed in waters within Japan's exclusive economic zone, as a Scud variant.
The missile defense system that the U.S. Air Force is testing this morning has proven successful in the past only because the launch location, the Marshall Islands, is known ahead of time. North Korea's technical prowess with mobile solid-fuel rocket launches renders the U.S. system obsolete.

Writing in "Behind the US war drive against North Korea," Peter Symonds summarizes the U.S. response to the news:
The test firing by North Korea of a short-range missile on Monday, the latest in a series of similar missile trials, has provoked another round of condemnations and warnings by Washington and its allies, amid a continuing US military build-up near the Korean Peninsula. The US Navy announced last week that it was deploying the USS Nimitz and its battle group to the region, bringing to three the number of aircraft carriers able to direct their massive fire power against North Korea.
President Trump responded to the missile test by tweeting that North Korea had shown “great disrespect” towards its neighbour China, which was “trying hard” to compel Pyongyang to bow to US demands to abandon its nuclear and missile programs. Washington has placed immense pressure on Beijing, above all through the threat of a war on its doorstep, to use its economic muscle to rein in the Pyongyang regime.
Speaking on CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday, US Defence Secretary James Mattis made clear that China had limited time. He condemned North Korea as “a direct threat to the United States,” adding: “We don’t have to wait until they have an intercontinental ballistic missile with a nuclear war head on it.” Mattis warned that any war with North Korea would be “catastrophic” and involve “probably the worst kind of fighting in most people’s lifetimes.”
The US war drive against North Korea has been accompanied by an incessant campaign in the media vilifying the Pyongyang regime and the alleged threat posed by its tiny nuclear arsenal. Mattis has already indicated that any attempt by North Korea to use a nuclear weapon would be met with an “effective and overwhelming” response—that is, annihilation, using America’s huge nuclear armoury.
To understand why North Korea is not going to buckle under threat read Bruce Cumings' "A Murderous History of Korea" in the last issue of London Review of Books. The U.S. has annihilated the country once before but failed to conquer it. The entire organizing principle of North Korea is the memory of that annihilation.

There is no possibility of rolling back North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile program. Do Trump and his generals realize this? They must. So the question becomes how much bellicose posturing must the U.S. engage in to maintain the illusion of "full-spectrum dominance"? And once the posturing begins can the U.S. be sure that events won't escalate out of control?

Friday, May 26, 2017

Russophobia Alone is Not Going to Work for Democrats

Yesterday afternoon I was ready to declare that Trump is in real trouble based on a reading of Nate Silver's article from Wednesday, "Donald Trump’s Base Is Shrinking":
...Trump’s base seems to be eroding. There’s been a considerable decline in the number of Americans who strongly approve of Trump, from a peak of around 30 percent in February to just 21 or 22 percent of the electorate now. (The decline in Trump’s strong approval ratings is larger than the overall decline in his approval ratings, in fact.) Far from having unconditional love from his base, Trump has already lost almost a third of his strong support. And voters who strongly disapprove of Trump outnumber those who strongly approve of him by about a 2-to-1 ratio, which could presage an “enthusiasm gap” that works against Trump at the midterms. The data suggests, in particular, that the GOP’s initial attempt (and failure) in March to pass its unpopular health care bill may have cost Trump with his core supporters.
But then this morning there is the news that Republican Greg Gianforte handily beat Rob Quist, darling of the Bernistas, in the Montana special election to fill Ryan Zinke's at-large congressional district seat, and this despite Gianforte being charged with assault on the eve of the election.

The anti-Trump mainstream press is spinning the result by closing the barn door after the pony has departed the farm, saying that, well, Quist never really had a chance to win. Here's a sample from Nate Silver's "What Went Down In The Montana Special Election":
Our vantage point is that we’re mostly looking at special elections in terms of how they might predict 2018. A night where Democrats are losing Montana by “only” 6 or 7 points is consistent with the sort of map you might see if Democrats were either taking over the House, or coming pretty close to it.
On the other hand, our expectations were already pretty high for Democrats. The opposition party — the party that doesn’t hold the White House — usually does well in midterm elections. And Trump is not a popular guy. The Democrats have plenty of issues, like the GOP’s unpopular health care bill, to campaign upon. This isn’t complicated stuff. You’d expect them to do pretty well under such circumstances, and to have a decent shot — let’s call it 50 to 60 percent — of taking over the House.
This result in Montana doesn’t change our priors much, therefore. Furthermore, it’s a somewhat quirky race, given that Quist and (especially) Gianforte both have their issues as candidates, and that Montana has been a little bit more competitive in Congressional and statewide races than in races for the presidency. Quist winning by 1 or losing by 13 might have called for a recalibration of our assumptions; we don’t think this result does.
We have a situation where Trump is losing his true believers at the same time the Democrats are trying to find true believers based on a new McCarthyism. It is a race to the bottom. While the touts at FiveThirtyEight are proclaiming, based on the numbers, that control of the House should shift to the Democrats. The problem with this is all the Dems are offering voters is an infantile, delusional complaint that it is all Russia's fault.

Look at this morning's lede unsigned editorial "President Trump Fails NATO," in the "newspaper of record":
That Mr. Trump and the allies were unable to agree on a common approach toward Russia was also worrisome. Moscow has become increasingly aggressive as Mr. Putin annexed Crimea, waged war in eastern Ukraine, meddled in the American and European elections and intervened militarily in Syria. The most that emerged from a meeting between Mr. Trump and Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, was that the two shared the “same line” on Ukraine.
All told, Mr. Trump’s commitment to NATO and America’s tradition of leadership remain very much up in the air. Should the president abdicate both, no one would be happier than Vladimir Putin.
If Russia were an aggressive power, shattering states right and left, forever on the offensive, this pitch might find an eager audience. Instead it's an upside-down view of the world. Russia is acting overwhelming in a defensive manner. The deep-state Democratic Party is asking voters to embrace a Bizarro World. That's a tough sell.

Trump is peddling a similar product. Rather than Russophobia, Trump is pitching Wahhabi-philia. It is not just the reality of Trumpcare upsetting his true believers; it's Trump's cavorting with the sheikhs and failing to collaborate with Russia to role up ISIS that is prompting his die-hard supporters to calve off from the base. Once this happens, once your vanguard crumbles, the rout is on. (A modified form of this happened with Obama in 2013.)

It surprised me that on Tuesday David Brooks, "The Alienated Mind," nonchalantly referred to Trump's impeachment as inevitable:
As the impeachment investigation proceeds, it’ll be important for us Trump critics to not set our hair on fire every day, to evaluate the evidence as if it were against a president we ourselves voted for. Would we really throw our own candidate out of office for this?
But in order for that to happen, Democrats have to take back the House next year. Russophobia alone is not going to get that done.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Tech Feudalism: Another Sign of End Times

Last week Naked Capitalism posted a terrific piece, "Notes From an Emergency: Tech Feudalism," by Maciej Cegłowski. Ceglowski defines "the feudal internet" as follows:
The status quo in May 2017 looks like this:
There are five Internet companies—Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook. Together they have a market capitalization just under 3 trillion dollars.
Bruce Schneier has called this arrangement the feudal Internet. Part of this concentration is due to network effects, but a lot of it is driven by the problem of security. If you want to work online with any measure of convenience and safety, you must choose a feudal lord who is big enough to protect you.
These five companies compete and coexist in complex ways.
Apple and Google have a duopoly in smartphone operating systems. Android has 82% of the handset market, iOS has 18%.
Google and Facebook are on their way to a duopoly in online advertising. Over half of the revenue in that lucrative ($70B+) industry goes to them, and the two companies between them are capturing all of the growth (16% a year).
Apple and Microsoft have a duopoly in desktop operating systems. The balance is something like nine to one in favor of Windows, not counting the three or four people who use Linux on the desktop, all of whom are probably at this conference.
Three companies, Amazon, Microsoft and Google, dominate cloud computing. AWS has 57% adoption, Azure has 34%. Google has 15%.
Outside of China and Russia, Facebook and LinkedIn are the only social networks at scale. LinkedIn has been able to survive by selling itself to Microsoft.
And outside of Russia and China, Google is the world’s search engine.
That is the state of the feudal Internet, leaving aside the court jester, Twitter, who plays an important but ancillary role as a kind of worldwide chat room.
 As China is donning the mantle of global leadership with its One Belt, One Road Initiative and Made in China 2025, the U.S. is looking to expand perpetual war to more parts of the planet. On the one hand you have China which is looking to build, on the other hand you have the United States which is looking to destroy. Most would dismiss this as an oversimplification, but what other conclusion can we draw?

The only thing the United States has in the way of an industrial policy is to be found in Silicon Valley where a mad dash is underway to corner the market with the first commercially successful self-driving vehicle. The masters of the tech universe, as Ceglowski explains, are also enraptured with space travel and immortality:
Given this scary state of the world, with ecological collapse just over the horizon, and a population sharpening its pitchforks, an important question is how this globalized, unaccountable tech industry sees its goals. What does it want? What will all the profits be invested in?
What is the plan?
The honest answer is: rocket ships and immortality.
I wish I was kidding.
The best minds in Silicon Valley are preoccupied with a science fiction future they consider it their manifest destiny to build. Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk are racing each other to Mars. Musk gets most of the press, but Bezos now sells $1B in Amazon stock a year to fund Blue Origin. Investors have put over $8 billion into space companies over the past five years, as part of a push to export our problems here on Earth into the rest of the Solar System.
As happy as I am to see Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos fired into space, this does not seem to be worth the collapse of representative government.
Our cohort of tech founders is feeling the chill breath of mortality as they drift into middle age. And so part of what is driving this push into space is a more general preoccupation with ‘existential risk’.
Musk is persuaded that we’re living in a simulation, and he or a fellow true believer has hired programmers to try to hack it.
Peter Thiel, our most unfortunate German import, has built a survival retreat for himself in New Zealand.
Sam Altman hoards gold in Big Sur.
OpenAI, a religious cult thinly disguised as a research institution, has received $1B in funding to forestall the robot rebellion.
The biggest existential risk, of course, is death, so a lot of money is going to make sure that our big idea men don’t expire before the world has been received the full measure of their genius.
Google Ventures founded the very secretive life extension startup Calico, with $1.5B dollars in funding. Google loses $4B a year on its various “moon shots”, which include life extension. They employ Ray Kurzweil, who believes we’re still on track for immortality by 2045. Larry Ellison has put $370M to anti-aging research, as anybody would want to live in a world with an immortal Larry Ellison. Our plutocrats are eager to make death an opt-out experience.
Now, I’m no fan of death. I don’t like the time commitment, or the permanence. A number of people I love are dead and it has strained our relationship.
But at the same time, I’m not convinced that a civilization that is struggling to cure male-pattern baldness is ready to take on the Grim Reaper. If we’re going to worry about existential risk, I would rather we start by addressing the two existential risks that are indisputably real—nuclear war and global climate change—and working our way up from there.
But real problems are messy. Tech culture prefers to solve harder, more abstract problems that haven’t been sullied by contact with reality. So they worry about how to give Mars an earth-like climate, rather than how to give Earth an earth-like climate. They debate how to make a morally benevolent God-like AI, rather than figuring out how to put ethical guard rails around the more pedestrian AI they are introducing into every area of people’s lives.
The tech industry enjoys tearing down flawed institutions, but refuses to put work into mending them. Their runaway apparatus of surveillance and manipulation earns them a fortune while damaging everything it touches. And all they can think about is the cool toys they’ll get to spend the profits on.
The message that’s not getting through to Silicon Valley is one that your mother taught you when you were two: you don’t get to play with the new toys until you clean up the mess you made.
The circumstances that have given the tech industry all this power will not last long. There is a limited time in which our small caste of tech nerds will have the power to make decisions that shape the world. By wasting the talents and the energies of our brightest people on fantasy role play, we are ceding the future to a more practical group of successors, some truly scary people who will take our tools and use them to advance a very different agenda.
To recap: the Internet has centralized into a very few hands. We have an extremely lucrative apparatus of social control, and it’s being run by chuckleheads.
The American government is also being run by chuckleheads.
The question everybody worries about is, what happens when these two groups of chuckleheads join forces?
I think the answer is that end times are upon us.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Rodrigo Duterte, an Enemy Worse than Islamic State?

Look at how the "Significant Digits" FiveThirtyEight daily newsletter summarizes the Islamic State of Lanao's attack in Marawi City on Mindanao, the southernmost major island in the Philippines:
60 days 
Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte declared a 60-day period of martial law for the entirety of Mindanao island because of clashes between armed groups and the government. [ABS CBN]
No reference to the fact that these innocuous "armed groups" are loyal to the Islamic State, nor that the article hyperlinked mentions that "2 soldiers and one police officer were killed, while 12 others were wounded in ongoing clashes in Marawi City." In other words, a deadly assault by the Islamic State in former U.S. territory is not being reported as such, but as another example of authoritarian overreach by Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte.

Even worse than FiveThirtyEight is Foreign Policy's Situation Report. Writers Paul McLeary and Adam Rawnsley don't even mention the ongoing battle in Marawi City; rather they choose to lede their morning news summary with Trump's boast to Duterte about sending nuclear subs to the Korean Peninsula:
Nukes. President Donald Trump disclosed to Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte last month that he recently sent “two nuclear submarines” to the area around the Korean peninsula to deal with the threat of North Korea, and the U.S. “a lot of firepower over there,” though “we don’t want to use it.”
A transcript of the April 29 call between the two leaders made by the Philippines government was obtained by the Washington Post on Tuesday. Duterte told Trump that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “might go crazy one moment,” leading Trump to point out that “we can’t let a madman with nuclear weapons let on the loose like that. We have a lot of firepower, more than he has, times 20.”
The disclosure to Duterte over the location of American submarines comes as the Philippines leader has pushed for closer relations with both China and Russia, and slammed American policies in the region. It also reflects the White House’s willingness to ignore Duterte’s angry comments about U.S. policy in an effort to keep up relations with a critical Asian ally.
Since taking office in June, Duterte has overseen a bloody campaign of murder against drug users and dealers that has been roundly criticized by the international community. The Trump administration has remained quiet over the campaign, but in the call Trump praised Duterte for doing an “unbelievable job on the drug problem.”
The idea here is that Duterte is the enemy, and the Islamic State of Lanao, also known as the Maute group, doesn't even merit mention.

Duterte was in Moscow meeting with Putin when the attack in Mindanao happened, prompting him to cut short his trip. The meeting is referenced on the President of Russia website:
President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Mr President, I am happy to see you in Moscow. We met in Lima before and recently in Beijing. Last year, we marked 40 years of diplomatic relations between our countries. 
Regrettably, our trade has been modest, but it started growing early this year and has already increased by 25 percent. There are many promising areas of bilateral cooperation, such as power machine building, transport infrastructure, energy and possibly military technical cooperation. 
I would like to begin our meeting by expressing condolences on the loss of Filipino lives in a terrorist attack. My colleagues and I understand that you need to get back home as soon as possible. I hope that the conflict you have mentioned will be settled without delay with minimal losses.
You and I know that our staff and colleagues worked hard to prepare a package of documents. Your ministers will stay in Russia for a while, and I know that these documents aimed at promoting bilateral ties will be signed tomorrow.
As you may know, I was not in Moscow but in one of Russia’s regions today. However, I certainly had to use this opportunity to meet with you personally and to thank you for accepting our invitation to visit Russia. I hope we will use the little time we have before your departure to have a personal discussion of bilateral relations and the situation in the region. 
Back in March The New York Times ran a lengthy piece on Duterte written by Richard Paddock, "Becoming Duterte: The Making of a Philippine Strongman," the sole goal of which, of all those column inches, was to publish a few choice morsels from the psychological assessment that Duterte had to complete in order to have his marriage annulled:
Years later, a psychological assessment of Mr. Duterte, prepared in 1998 for the annulment of his marriage, concluded that he had “narcissistic personality disorder” and a “pervasive tendency to demean, humiliate others and violate their rights.”
Once again the message is clear: U.S. subjects are not allowed to pursue their own interests and seek rapprochement with China and Russia, to do so is to be considered an enemy, one more worthy of mention than that foil of convenience, the Islamic State.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Hippies vs. Punks: The Zombies' Odessey & Oracle (1968)

I was working a conference in April and in attendance was a guy I've known for a long time. He is a member of my union; that's how I know him. He is something of a pop music aficionado. He can go on for long stretches of time; for instance, about the recording history and chart positions of British Invasion bands of the 1960s.

This is what he did when I gave him, and a couple other aging union brothers, a lift home from an all-day out-of-town union assembly. He had burned a British Invasion disk. To each track he provided a running commentary. It was a delight, until the CD player of the rental car I was driving ate the disk. The guy freaked and started pounding on the dashboard. Fortunately, we were only a few clicks from his aprtment. I was able to soothe him with the promise that a pair of needle-nose pliers would remedy the situation. When we got to his building, he ran upstairs, grabbed the pliers (which, thank goodness, he possessed) and returned to successfully extract his juicy nuggets of Georgie Fame, Petula Clark, Herman's Hermits and The Hollies.

Next I saw him, at last month's conference, there wasn't any shadow of the British-Invasion-CD meltdown, only the bright sunshine of his having seen the week prior The Zombies 50th anniversary tour of Odessey & Oracle (1968).

Odessey & Oracle, which my union brother proceeded to tell me, is a classic from the psychedelic era. The album was recorded principally at Abbey Road Studios a few months after The Beatles had recorded Sgt. Pepper's there. He raved for a solid ten minutes about the record, saying I had to listen to it immediately, particularly if I was unfamiliar with it. I promised I would.

I waited until a copy, which was the 2004 reissue by Fuel 2000, was available from my public library. I've been listening to it off and on for four weeks (mostly on last week).

What I've been thinking about is mostly how short-lived psychedelic pop/rock was. This train of thought is a continuation from the last Hippies vs. Punks post. By 1969 Pink Floyd had put a lot of sonic space between it and their Syd Barrett records. (Just think of the aural distance between June 1, 1967 Sgt. Pepper's and November 22, 1968 The White Album.)

The popular reception of Odessey & Oracle is a testament to the spontaneously anachronistic quality of psychedelic pop. As Greg Russo explains in his liner notes, The Zombies were having difficulty making money on tour. After a disastrous trip to the Far East, the band -- really the songwriters, keyboard player Rod Argent and bass player Chris White -- decided to make one more go of it in the studio. They signed with CBS Records, and CBS put up the money to record at Abbey Road.

Once the session work was done and the mixes made, Clive Davis, head of CBS, was not much impressed, an opinion that was confirmed when the first two singles released in 1967, "Friends of Mine" (not the best choice) and "Care of Cell 44" (much better) both tanked, followed by the generally ignored release of the album in April 1968.

The label then basically shelved Odessey & Oracle. By this time most of The Zombies had gone out and found regular day jobs. Chasing after the Zeitgeist, Rod Argent was already working on rebuilding the band, moving a new Zombies (which would become Argent) in, as Russo says, "a progressive, heavier" direction.

Then something bizarre happened. A U.S. radio station in the Midwest started playing "Time of the Season" at the end of 1968/beginning of '69, and by March it was a smash hit, reaching #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and topping the Cashbox chart.

By March of 1969 the first blush of psychedelia had already faded. Nixon was in the White House and his secret saturation bombing of Cambodia was underway. Nineteen-Sixty-Nine and 1970 -- with Woodstock and Altamont, Easy Rider and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the Weather Underground and Kent State -- are the end of the '60s dream.

The Zombies psychedelic pop from the Summer of Love must have seemed simultaneously dated and fresh. Instantaneous nostalgia.

Sgt. Pepper's promise that everything is right here right now had proven hard to hold onto. Societies are not founded on such freedom. But people didn't want to give up the dream, particularly as that dream was floating closer and closer to the mainstream. So Odessey & Oracle found its place on AM radios in station wagons headed to and from the beach, or even on the supermarket PA, soothing shoppers as they strolled the fluorescent aisles buying Pop-Tarts and Tang.

Last week when I went on my morning coffee break -- there is an espresso place up the block from the building where I work that serves good coffee and is staffed by friendly, attractive, thoughtful, non-hipster young people -- two young women (my favorites) were working the counter. while on the sound system The Supremes' "You Can't Hurry Love" was playing.

Either these young women were very kind and adept at affecting interest or they were genuinely interested when I launched into a small spiel about how music is isomorphic, that it mirrors the society from whence it originates, and that now, for our society, it would be impossible to produce Motown sound. "We're not that happy anymore," I said.

One of the young women agreed. "Yeah. You're right. We don't do happy."

Democrats Likely to Take Back the House in 2018

It's looking good for the shiftless, Russophobic Democrats to reclaim the majority in the U.S. House of Representatives in the 2018 midterms. Harry Enten ran the numbers in "Democrats Don’t Need Trump’s Voters To Retake The House":
[O]pinions of the incumbent president and House voting patterns have become more closely linked in recent midterms. The president’s party has lost at least 83 percent of voters who disapprove of the president’s job in every midterm since 1994. In none did the president’s party win more than 87 percent of those who approved of the president’s job.2 These statistics are not good news for Republicans if Trump’s current approval rating (40 percent among voters) and current disapproval rating (55 percent) holds through the midterm. Even if Trump’s Republican Party wins the recent high water mark of 87 percent of those who approve of the job the president is doing and loses only 83 percent of those who disapprove, Republicans would still lose the House popular vote by 7 percentage points.3 That could be enough for them to lose the House.
Then in 2019, with Democrats controlling the House and a base thirsty for blood, we can look forward to impeachment proceedings.

I consider the Watergate Era a cultural high point for the nation (if only because it produced Neil Young's Ditch Trilogy). So I'm hoping that another impeachment of a Republican president will get the body politic's creative juices flowing again.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Trump's Embrace of al-Saud Proof of a United States in Crisis

Almost nothing remains of candidate Trump after four months in office.

For those voters who thought Trump offered the rational choice with his promise to shelve regime change in Syria in favor of dealing first with Islamic State (which implied continued engagement with Iran), the orgiastic embrace over the weekend of POTUS 45 in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia proves that Trump's campaign-trail rationality was merely rhetoric.

Trump completed a rhetorical somersault yesterday with his speech on Islam. He managed to criticize Iran for extremism and a lack of freedom at the very moment that Iranian voters reelected moderate president Hassan Rouhani (something subjects of al-Saud can only dream about).

For the moment mainstream press (see "In Saudi Arabia, Trump Reaches Out to Sunni Nations, at Iran’s Expense" by Ben Hubbard and Thomas Erdbrink) and alternate media (see Bill Van Auken's "Trump’s speech in Riyadh signals US escalation against Iran") are in agreement over Trump's hypocrisy. Of course, the alternate media tends to did a little deeper into why Trump is moving to scrap Obama's Iran nuclear deal legacy achievement. According to Van Auken,
Beyond the drive to militarily confront Iran, a principal regional rival of US imperialism in the Middle East, and the huge profits that Saudi arms purchases reap for the US military industrial complex, there are broader strategic considerations in the US turn toward a closer alliance with Riyadh.
Some of these issues were outlined on the eve of Trump’s trip in a piece published by the influential Washington think tank the Center for Strategic and International Studies and authored by Anthony Cordesman, a longtime Pentagon adviser. First among them is, according to Cordesman, “the continued level of US dependence on Saudi help in securing the stable flow of Gulf oil.”
While US imports from the Gulf have fallen sharply over the past quarter-century, Cordesman cites “indirect dependence” in terms of the impact a disruption in oil exports would have on global energy prices and the world capitalist economy. In particular, he points to the dependence of Asian economies on Gulf petroleum exports.
If the United States failed in “providing power projection forces and arms” to the region, he writes, its principal global rival, China, might fill the void. “China may not yet be ready to try to assume the role, but the entire South China Sea crisis would pale to near insignificance if China became the de facto guarantor of Gulf stability.”
Cordesman continues: “The real-world nature of US influence and power in the Pacific would be cut massively, China’s leverage over other major Asian economies like Japan and South Korea would be sharply increased, and the potential rise in tension between China and India--and cut in India’s relative position--would have a massive impact on the balance of power in South Asia and the Indian Ocean.”
In other words, the turn toward closer relations with Saudi Arabia and the related Gulf oil sheikdoms is bound up with US imperialism’s mounting conflict with China, which it has identified as the principal challenge to the drive for American global hegemony. Washington is determined to dominate Asia, including China, by maintaining the military power to choke off the region’s energy imports.
The fact that the sclerotic House of Saud, one of the world’s last absolute monarchies, has become a lynchpin of Washington’s imperialist strategy, not only in the Middle East but globally, is a measure of the crisis of American and world capitalism.
Oil revenues, which account for fully 90 percent of the kingdom’s export earnings, have been cut nearly in half since 2014. Last month, the government was forced to reverse itself on austerity measures that hit the military and public employees over fear that declining living standards and rising unemployment are creating the conditions for social revolt.
In the predominantly Shia Eastern Province, the center of the kingdom’s oil production, security forces laid siege to the town of Awamiyah, a center of resistance to the regime, during the week preceding Trump’s visit. Combined with the failure of the Saudi bid to topple the Assad regime in Syria by supporting Al Qaeda-linked militias and the regime’s inability to retake Yemen from the Houthi rebels, the deepening domestic crisis is creating the conditions for revolutionary upheavals against Washington’s principal ally in the Arab world.
Obama's push for the 2015 Iran nuclear deal was not because he was a fervent pacifist. It was because segments of the U.S. deep state realize that Iran cannot be conquered militarily. The U.S. cannot win that war. The fact that the U.S. is moving full steam in that direction is certainly proof of a crisis.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Trump Revealed CIA-ISIS Plot to Lavrov + Trump's Approval Rating Heads South + Present at the Creation of the EU Security State

A Washington Post reporter has revealed that the Islamic State (IS) laptop plot story, which President Donald Trump mentioned to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at the White House last week came from IS itself, through the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The reason for the leaking against Trump, which followed in the Post and in the Anglo-American media, has also been disclosed by the Post. The CIA and at least one senior staff official of the National Security Council, who briefed the CIA on what Trump had said, are angry at the President for revealing collaboration between IS operatives and their US Government handlers in attacks on Russian targets, including Russian airline travellers.
. . . [T]he US “partner” is being run by the CIA for Islamic State (ISIS) operations against Russia. The “common threat”, to which McMaster referred – that is, an Islamic State plot against both American and Russian air travellers — is a plot which the senior NSC and CIA operatives do not want to reveal to their real adversary. This, according to Miller and his US official sources, is not Islamic State but Russia.
. . . Trump identified a US tie to Islamic State which is operational against Russian targets. That the Obama Administration and the CIA have been doing this is no secret. Nor is the prospect of Islamic State and CIA plots against Russian and international aviation a secret.
Helmer doesn't clarify Israel's role in this story of the ISIS-U.S. alliance. Why was Israel identified as the source? My guess is that the Israelis are active participants along with Daesh and the CIA.


FiveThirtyEight has a handy poll tracker for Trump's approval ratings, "How Un/Popular is Donald Trump?" Trump's baseline "Approve" is at a low, while his "Disapprove" is at a high. He is not cooked yet. But if these trends continue -- say, his "Approve" numbers dip below 35% -- he will be.


Guy Verhofstadt had an opinion piece, "Speak Up for Europe and Win," published in the NYT the other day where he celebrates the resurgence of the neoliberal center and points the way forward to a reanimated European Union. That path? Increased centralization and militarization:
After the German elections in September of this year, we have to start reforming the union — not by papering over the cracks, but with deep reforms. That means fixing the eurozone, strengthening the union’s foreign policy and border protection measures, creating a European defense force and establishing a continentwide security service. All of this needs to go hand in hand with deep changes to our institutions. The key challenges are to replace the bloated European Commission with a smaller government and to eradicate once and for all the unanimity rule.
Not much hope there.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The 25th Amendment Fantasy

The basic mechanics of how the spreading Russophobia works is most Democrats, like many of the women that I work with, are so eager to see Trump toppled that they are willing to repeat the anti-Russia slurs they pick up from CNN and MSNBC.

With the Comey memo, we seem to be approaching escape velocity. A few more bombshells back to back and I don't see how Trump avoids a breakdown from sheer exhaustion. Then Ross Douthat's floater on the 25th Amendment starts sounding feasible. Trump will be in Mar-a-Lago recovering and a majority of his cabinet will inform Congress that he is unfit to serve. Pence becomes president.

The problem with this scenario is that the 25th Amendment allows the unfit president to declare his fitness to Congress and resume his duties. The cabinet and vice-president (now acting president) can dispute the president's declaration of fitness. Then the whole mess is tossed into the House and Senate for a vote. It's a high bar, akin to impeachment, for a president's removal. Two-thirds of both the House and Senate need to declare the president unfit for the vice-president to continue to serve as acting president.

This is too messy and pyrotechnic for the deep state. Unless Trump can be made to accept extended sabbatical, the 25th Amendment soft-coup route is pure fantasy.

Trump is being tattooed with leaks and is being drummed to putty by the mainstream media, but he doesn't strike me as someone who would accept a declaration of unfitness.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Israel Flashes Its Pistol in Deep State Rumble with Trump

The latest battle being fought in the deep state war against Trump is Israeli led. (See the NYT frontpager "Trump Revealed Highly Classified Intelligence to Russia, in Break With Ally, Officials Say" by Matthew Rosenberg and Eric Schmitt.)

"[A] current and a former American government official said Monday" that Trump revealed to Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak during their White House meeting the existence of a plot by the Islamic State. The plot was discovered thanks to the intelligence work of a "Middle Eastern ally" who doesn't want the sources and methods of its intelligence gathering revealed:
In fact, the ally has repeatedly warned American officials that it would cut off access to such sensitive information if it were shared too widely, the former official said. In this case, the fear is that Russia will be able to determine exactly how the information was collected and could disrupt the ally’s espionage efforts.
The plot had to do with Daesh smuggling bombs hidden in laptops onto airlines. Apparently Trump revealed the name of the city in ISIS-controlled territory where the intelligence originated. This knowledge by the Russians supposedly would allow them to compromise the intelligence network.

But this assumes that Russia has a reason to do so. The "Middle Eastern ally" is obviously Israel. Russia has a deep, sophisticated relationship with Israel. Israel can communicate its interests clearly to Russia. There is nothing here to think any significant intelligence breech has occurred.

What is happening here is Israel is communicating its displeasure with Trump the week before his visit there. According to Mark Landler in "Before Trump’s Visit to Israel, Small Issues Prove Thorniest" Netanyahu is losing patience with Trump's handling of the Western Wall and moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem:
The White House ran into static with the Israelis on Monday on a series of small, but sensitive, diplomatic issues, ranging from the legal status of the Western Wall to President Trump’s repeated promise to move the American Embassy.
In a related matter, the political sensitivity of Jerusalem flared up after Mr. Netanyahu denied a report that he had privately urged Mr. Trump last February not to move the American Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv. A Fox News correspondent, Conor Powell, wrote on Twitter, “Everyone I’ve spoken to in D.C. that has been briefed on #Jerusalem embassy move says #Netanyahu told #Trump not to move embassy at this time.”
Mr. Netanyahu’s office denounced the report as a “lie” and went so far as to release what it said were written reports, by an Israeli adviser, of the conversation between the prime minister and the president, when Mr. Netanyahu visited Washington in February. The Israelis said the prime minister told Mr. Trump that he favored moving the embassy.
Israel is showing Trump it can place its thumb on the deep-state scale whenever it wishes and that Trump, if he doesn't want to see more frontpage headlines about his colluding with the Russians, should fall into line.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Hard to Believe that NHS Still Using Windows XP

I liked Windows XP and was disappointed when the local where I was employed at the time made the decision to migrate to a newer operating system. The reason for the move was security. But that was years ago; maybe five. It is surprising to me that an institution as august as Britain's National Health Service would still be running machines using XP. 

It will be interesting to see if these newer iterations of the ransomware are security-patch proof. (I hate to say it, but I'm glad I took the time to install Windows 10 last year.)

A good overview of the global WannaCry malware attack is found in "Ransomware’s Aftershocks Feared as U.S. Warns of Complexity" by David Sanger, Sewell Chan and Mark Scott:
The source of the attack is a delicate issue for the United States because the vulnerability on which the malicious software is based was published by a group called the Shadow Brokers, which last summer began publishing cybertools developed by the National Security Agency.
Government investigators, while not publicly acknowledging that the computer code was developed by American intelligence agencies as part of the country’s growing arsenal of cyberweapons, say they are still investigating how the code got out. There are many theories, but increasingly it looks as though the initial breach came from an insider, perhaps a government contractor.
Copycat variants of the malicious software behind the attacks have begun to proliferate, according to experts who were on guard for new attacks. “We are in the second wave,” said Matthieu Suiche of Comae Technologies, a cybersecurity company based in the United Arab Emirates. “As expected, the attackers have released new variants of the malware. We can surely expect more.”
Monday could bring a wave of attacks to the United States, warned Caleb Barlow, the vice president of threat intelligence for IBM. “How the infections spread across Asia, then Europe overnight will be telling for businesses here in the United States,” he said.
The cyberattack has hit 200,000 computers in more than 150 countries, according to Rob Wainwright, the executive director of Europol, Europe’s police agency.
Among the organizations hit were FedEx in the United States, the Spanish telecom giant Telefónica, the French automaker Renault, universities in China, Germany’s federal railway system and Russia’s Interior Ministry. The most disruptive attacks infected Britain’s public health system, where surgeries had to be rescheduled and some patients were turned away from emergency rooms.
A 22-year-old British researcher who uses the Twitter name MalwareTech has been credited with inadvertently helping to stanch the spread of the assault by identifying the web domain for the hackers’ “kill switch” — a way of disabling the malware. Mr. Suiche of Comae Technologies said he had done the same for one of the new variants of malware to surface since the initial wave.
On Sunday, MalwareTech was one of many security experts warning that a less-vulnerable version of the malware is likely to be released. On Twitter, he urged users to immediately install a security patch for older versions of Microsoft’s Windows, including Windows XP. (The attack did not target Windows 10.)
In Britain, fallout continued Sunday. Two opposition parties, the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats, asserted that the governing Conservative Party had not done enough to prevent the attack. With a general election June 8, officials have been racing to get ahead of the problem. 
Britain’s defense minister, Michael Fallon, told the BBC on Sunday that the government was spending about 50 million pounds, about $64 million, to improve cybersecurity at the National Health Service, where many computers still run the outdated Windows XP software, which Microsoft had stopped supporting.

Friday, May 12, 2017

The Sisi Trend Again

It was only last Friday that things were looking up for Trump. Now things appear quite differently. The first place to start this morning is Yves Smith's re-post of Gaius Publius' "Trump – A Nation in Crisis, Again":
Yves here. The media’s fixation on the scary Putin monster takes energy away from opposing Trump on real issues: health care, climate, dropping life expectancy, the surveillance state, to name a few. It also validates the effort of the CIA and certain elements of the military to meddle in domestic politics in a shockingly open manner, which is a terrible precedent.
As Lambert wrote, “If we can’t win on the facts, we do not deserve to win.” As Ilargi said yesterday:
It’s not about whether Trump is or has ever been guilty of anything he’s accused of, it’s that the insinuating narratives about that have long been written and repeated ad nauseam. It’s about whether the witch hunt exemplified by PropOrNot makes objective news gathering impossible. And the only possible response to that question must be affirmative….
Does Trump deserve being resisted? It certainly looks that way much of the time. But he should be resisted with facts, not innuendo of yellow paper quality. That destroys the media, and the media are needed to maintain a democracy.
Gaius’ post focuses on how the “get Trump on Russia” campaign has gone down a series of rabbit holes and his opponents are now likely to shift to “extra-Constitutional means” to remove him.
Gaius Publius hypothesizes that a constitutional crisis occurs in the U.S. every 70 years:
The Next American Constitution
One last thought. This country has had a constitutional crisis every 70 years, after which the government restructured itself. In effect, we have been ruled by three Constitutions, not just one, each producing, in practice, very different governments and societies. We’re rapidly producing a crisis that will produce a fourth.
In order, our constitutional crises are:
• 1789, the Revolutionary War and transition from colony to slave-holding republic.
• 1865, the Civil War and transition from divided slave-holding nation with two competing economies to united freed-slave state. This change took down the Southern agricultural aristocracy (by depriving it of the nearly free labor it depended on); made the Northern industrial economy nationally ascendant; and put us firmly on the path to first-world industrial powerhouse.
• 1933, the Great Depression and transition from a light-handed pro-business government to a heavy-handed regulatory state.
• And now, this.
What will the next American Constitution look like? Turkey’s and Hungary’s, with their dictators and single-party governments wrapped in the old constitutional forms? A naked kleptocracy, where constitutional forms are simply ignored, like those in many third-world countries? A state in which forms are observed but the hand with real power belongs mainly to the “security” apparatus? In many countries, coups by segments of the elite, blatant or covert, are welcomed as correctives and tacitly approved (another way constitutions are revised without being rewritten).
In the past this is what I have referred to on this page as the "Sisi Trend."

Macron's attempted third-party renewal of neoliberalism is part of this Sisi Trend, a desperate lunge to create an electoral majority to implement all the hugely unpopular policies that have pauperized so many the last 40 years (and created a new definition of the working class, the precariat).

Macron's Republic En Marche! reeks of intelligence agency dial-spinning. But already Macron is running into trouble ahead of the June 11 legislative elections in France. According to the Reuters story, "France's Macron woos conservative moderates as row simmers with ally":
Thursday's publication of Macron's partial candidate list produced the first sign of tension within his camp since he was elected.
Francois Bayrou, a centrist who gave up his presidential bid to join Macron, told L'Obs magazine that the list contained only 35 names from his Modem party, whereas he and Macron had agreed it should have 120.
"We got him elected," Bayrou told L'Obs. "This (candidate list) is a Socialist recycling operation."
Richard Ferrand, secretary general of Macron's REM party, responded to Bayrou's complaint. "There was no set agreement," he said on BFM TV, adding that there was still room for maneuver given there are more constituencies to be assigned.
It is going to be difficult for Macron to govern. The Thomas Friedman fantasy of a legislatively potent third party devoted to the toxic nostrums of neoliberalism will likely disintegrate sooner rather than later in the French parliament, allowing the West to march on to unvarnished Sisiism.

Three days before the French election the Brits vote for a new parliament. The press is savaging Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn per usual. Next to Putin and Kim Jong-un there is not a figure more reviled in the mainstream media.

A Labour campaign platform was leaked this week which sent the Tory press into a howling rage. Labour is returning to its social-democratic roots, calling for the re-nationalization of certain industries and making universities tuition free. What's not to like? Stephen Castle includes the following sidebar in  "U.K. Labour Party Approves Manifesto That May Take Sharp Left Turn":
The program includes some eye-catching policies likely to appeal to traditional party supporters and younger voters.
  • Abolish university tuition fees.
  • Provide free meals to more schoolchildren, paid for by removing the VAT exemption on private school fees.
  • Renationalize some energy companies, train operators and Royal Mail.
  • Impose a levy on companies “with high numbers of staff on very high pay.”
  • Prohibit government contracts from companies that pay bosses more than 20 times as much as the lowest earners.
  • Guarantee the rights of European Union nationals living in Britain, and "secure reciprocal rights" for British citizens living elsewhere in the bloc.
  • Ensure no rise in income tax for those earning below 80,000 pounds, or about $105,000.
It is worth taking note of Labour's attempt to exorcise its New Labour Blairite demons. Will voters reward an anti-neoliberal mass political party? We'll find out soon.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

The Silver Lining to the Comey Affair

A silver lining to the Watergateesque elite power play underway is that it might convince Trump that there is no placating the deep state, that he should return to the ideology of his presidential campaign and pursue confrontation. If the deep state is going to burn him down why shouldn't Trump go "Bulworth" -- something Obama hinted he might do while in office -- and burn the deep state down? He certainly has turned somersaults since his inauguration. Is there one campaign promise left standing? Besides the House repeal of Obamacare, the ongoing dismantling of the EPA and some grist for the Right-to-Life mill, I'd say no.

Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov's White House visit yesterday was buried beneath all the news of Comey's sacking. The deep state doesn't want to let go of its Cold War reboot because it is the main defense against collapse of the rotten neoconservative/neoliberal governing center. Western voters are now not allowed to vote for anything other than the tainted mainstream parties because to do so is to support Kremlin subversion of democracy. This is clearly on display in the Politico report from Michael Crowley, "Trump’s big Russia reset":
The positive tone throughout the day was a marked contrast from Tillerson’s mid-April visit to Moscow, where he sat grim-faced next to Lavrov for a dour news conference that focused on the U.S.-Russia divide. Days earlier, the U.S. had launched a missile strike on a Syrian airfield to punish the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons, an act in which Trump officials said Moscow may have been complicit. The Kremlin bitterly protested the strike and said in a statement during Tillerson’s visit that U.S.-Russia relations are at “their worst period since the end of the Cold War.”
There was little of that talk Wednesday, even as Democrats made some of their boldest charges yet that Trump could be covering up a huge conspiracy that would reveal him to be acting under Kremlin influence. Trump officials call such charges laughable paranoia and an effort to rationalize Hillary Clinton’s election defeat.
Lavrov’s first visit to Washington since before the annexation of Crimea, and Trump’s willingness to greet him in the Oval Office, are clear signs that Trump is determined to pursue better relations with Putin despite intense political headwinds.
“The symbolism does seem significant,” said Samuel Charap, a former State Department official now with the Rand Corp. “At least on a diplomatic level, there’s a degree of normalcy that the Obama administration was trying to deny Russia.”
But Trump will soon face new pressure to maintain a hard line on Russia. Later this month, he travels to Europe for meetings with G-7 and NATO officials who mostly take a hard line against Putin — especially in the wake of suspected Russian efforts to swing France’s May 7 presidential election.
The Kremlin has denied trying to interfere in the French or U.S. elections.
“I believe it’s important to engage Russia at high levels,” said Finer, who served as State Department chief of staff under Secretary of State John Kerry. “And I would hope that among the important issues that get raised with Foreign Minister Lavrov are what should be deep concerns about Russia’s continued interference in our democratic processes, and those of other countries.”
Statements from the White House and State Department on Wednesday did not mention election interference.