Friday, June 30, 2017

Hippies vs. Punks: Hugh Masekela's The Promise of a Future (1968)

To review: It was four or five years ago I saw some video of the Old Grey Whistle Test television program. The show ran from the early 1970s until the late 1980s.

The transition from the bands of the Hippie era to the arrival of the Punks was jarring. The music went from being good to sounding horrible. The situation did not improve with the advent of Post-Punk and New Wave.

Around the same time that I watched the old Whistle Test episodes, I saw the Martin Scorsese documentary on George Harrison. I was struck by the large crowds for the disastrous Dark Horse tour November-December 1974. An army of Krishna Consciousness fans cheering for a boozed and coked-up Harrison.

The question that I was confronted with is -- How do we go from Krishna Consciousness to The Damned and Sex Pistols in a few short years? How does that happen?

I don't think it is merely a coincidence (or, as an old girlfriend gratingly used to say, "a co-inky-dink") that the same time period -- the middle-to-late 1970s -- is synonymous with rise of neoliberalism. Union density has peaked; financialization of Wall Street has begun; Thatcher, Reagan and TINA ("There Is No Alternative" to capitalism) are about to launch the inequality rocketship.

Originally, I had intended for these posts to stay focused on just the transitional years, 1974-1979. Then I realized that it was necessary, in order to understand who the Hippie was, to go back to the 1960s.

To provide an exploratory framework I decided at first to focus on some key festivals. For the Hippie era, the two that I spent the most time on and am still working through are 1) San Jose's Aquarian Family Festival of May 1969, and 2) Cincinnati Summer Pop Festival of June 1970. I concentrated on bands from the undercard like The Chocolate Watchband, Joy of Cooking, Damnation of Adam's Blessing, Bloodrock, et al. I did the same thing for the Punks, examining the 100 Club Punk Festival of September 1976 and the night Punk died, the January 14, 1978 Sex Pistols show at Bill Graham's Winterland.

The mother and father of all multi-day rock'n'roll festivals during the Age of Aquarius are Monterey Pop and Woodstock. Separated by two years, two months and the expanse of the continental United States, these concerts are weightier than all others because of the feature films associated with them: D.A. Pennebaker's Monterey Pop (1968)  and Michael Wadleigh's Woodstock (1970).

The movies were released only one-year-and-three-months apart; most of the artists who performed at Monterey Pop perform at Woodstock.

It's been a while since I've seen either, but if you were to view them one after the other I think you would agree that the norm had become distinctly freakier by August 1969.

Which brings up an interesting issue about the incubation period of social movements. The summer of 1967 is known as the "Summer of Love." (Otis Redding asked from the stage at Monterey Pop, "This is the Love Crowd, right?") But Monterey Pop didn't make its big splash on movie screens nationwide until after Christmas 1968, by which time, for instance, Janis Joplin, one of the big stars of the film, had already dumped her band, Big Brother and the Holding Company, and the country had somersaulted from Eros to Thanatos with the assassinations of MLK and RFK and the police riot at the Chicago Democratic National Convention.

But thanks to the relative slowness of  media in the 1960s (communication was much more localized than it is today), the massification of bohemia was able to cohere in wave after wave, year upon year, building an organic mass base that necessitated an equally massive counterrevolution.

It is the rancid carapace of that counterrevolution that rules the globe today. It should have been cracked and discarded decades ago, really at the end of the 1980s (that's what Grunge was about), and certainly by Y2K. By the time we get to Obama 2008, that was the popular electoral mandate for scrapping the counterrevolutionary neoliberal paradigm.

You'll notice though that at each turn of wheel the counterrevolutionaries have manged to maintain control. They have done so by resorting to increasingly intense system shocks, principally war (it's no coincidence that there are more displaced people than at any time since World War Two), and invasive information technology.

What I'm saying is that the Hippies couldn't happen today because technology wouldn't allow it. Technology is too instantaneous and people are too plugged in for any social movement not to be immediately co-opted.

Richard Hell said something to the effect that "Blank Generation," his Punk manifesto, was written about the collapse of the 1960s and the Vietnam War simultaneous with the explosion in media, leaving him feeling overwhelmed, numbed, blunted.

It has become much, much worse. Worse than we imagined possible. I'd say it's worse than Orwell or Huxley. I think Cormac McCarthy gets the vibe right, but our actual dystopia is noisier, a screeching tiny ever-present squall.

This month is the fiftieth anniversary of the Monterey Pop Festival. (For a good, brief Monterey Pop retrospective, as framed by the experience of Sacramento-native and future power hitter for the Los Angeles Dodgers 18-year-old Dusty Baker, read Kevin Greene's "The Greatest Music Festival in History." It captures the wide-open Hippie Weltanschauung.)

Whenever I see the Pennebaker film I'm always struck by the appearance of South Arican trumpeter Hugh Masekela and his band (see second YouTube video above). That appearance seems so ahead of its time -- 15 years before WOMAD, and 25 years before Wo' Pop is broadly accepted in the United States.

So this past weekend I decided to get a copy of The Promise of a Future (1968). Masekela performed songs from the album at Monterey Pop, including his Billboard 100 #1 "Grazing in the Grass" (see YouTube at top of the post)

Ask yourself, "When was the last time an instrumental was #1?" It is a good question -- "Harlem Shake" in 2013, a testament to the power of the internet and YouTube. Before that you would have to travel all the way back to the mid-'80s and Jan Hammer's "Miami Vice Theme."

The 1970s were the golden age of the instrumental #1, thanks to the popularity of Disco (makes me think more kindly of the genre). Then, before Edgar Winter Group's "Frankenstein" and Henry Mancini's "Love Theme to Romeo and Juliet" (which is basically Muzak), comes Masekela's "Grazing in the Grass" for two weeks in the summer of '68.

"Grazing in the Grass" reminds me of a Ramsey Lewis tune. My favorite from The Promise of a Future is the lead track, a two-minute rendition of the Ashford & Simpson classic, "Ain't No Mountain High Enough."

The last three songs on the album are all Masekela originals. "Vuca" follows "Grazing in the Grass":

Listening to The Promise of a Future it is impossible not to feel wistful about the loss of the dreams of 1960s. The culture was much stronger. Egalitarian collective action seemed possible.

What happens to all the futures that never arrive?

Thursday, June 29, 2017

MBS vs. MBN: Big Trouble Brewing in KSA-USA Deep State

It is important to remember that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is inseparable from the United States. The succession crisis currently underway in the House of Saud will have direct impacts on the U.S. national security state.

Ben Hubbard, Eric Schmitt and Mark Mazzetti report in "Deposed Saudi Prince Is Said to Be Confined to Palace":
BEIRUT, Lebanon — The recently deposed crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Nayef, has been barred from leaving the kingdom and confined to his palace in the coastal city of Jidda, according to four current and former American officials and Saudis close to the royal family.
The new restrictions on the man who until last week was next in line to the throne and ran the kingdom’s powerful internal security services sought to limit any potential opposition for the new crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, 31, the officials said, speaking on the condition of anonymity so as not to jeopardize relationships with Saudi royals.
It was unclear how long the restrictions would remain in place. An adviser to the Saudi royal court referred queries to the Information Ministry, whose officials could not immediately be reached for comment on Wednesday. A senior official in the Saudi Foreign Ministry reached by telephone on Wednesday night described the account as “baseless and false.”
The Saudi monarch, King Salman, shook up the line of succession last week with a string of royal decrees that promoted his favorite son, Mohammed bin Salman, to crown prince and removed Mohammed bin Nayef, 57, from the line of succession.
But the restrictions placed on the elder prince suggest fear that some members of the sprawling royal family are upset with the change, and that public appearances by him could exacerbate such sentiments.
“It’s an indication that M.B.S. does not want any opposition,” a senior United States official said. “He doesn’t want any rear-guard action within the family. He wants a straight elevation without any dissent — not that M.B.N. was plotting anything anyway.”
The official said the United States government was in contact with the Saudi Interior Ministry, but that American officials had not had any formal contact with Mohammed bin Nayef and were monitoring the situation closely.
“M.B.N. has been such a great friend and partner of the U.S., we would not want to see him treated inelegantly or indecorously,” the senior American official said.
Since Mohammed bin Nayef’s removal from the line of succession, several veteran American counterterrorism and intelligence officials who had strong relationships with him have privately expressed outrage at his treatment. But they were wary of speaking publicly given the strong support for King Salman and his son from President Trump and other top aides, including Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law.
MBS's palace coup, backed by Trump and his son-in-law, has to be seen in terms of the blockade of Qatar. The demands leveled by the Saudi-led bloc expire Monday. According to Peter Symonds in "Gulf confrontation worsens as deadline looms for Saudi ultimatum to Qatar":
The public divisions in Washington over the US stance toward the Gulf dispute highlight the reckless, incoherent and crisis-ridden character of American foreign policy in the Middle East and internationally. A quarter century of US-led wars in the region has left millions dead, destroyed entire societies and profoundly destabilised the nation-state system imposed by French and British imperialism after World War I.
The standoff between the Saudi-led bloc with Qatar adds another potentially explosive trigger to the existing powder kegs, particularly in Syria and Yemen, that could set off a region-wide and international conflict involving all the major powers.
Huge cataclysmic change ushering in collapse of the hegemon always seems impossible until it happens. Then it appears inevitable.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Gallup Puts Some Numbers to the Precariat in the U.S.

UPDATE: Today is #SeaHomeless day in Seattle, a day local media will focus on the issue of homelessness. Seattle is booming. Commercial and residential construction is visible throughout the city. Each morning on my two-mile walk into work I pass several different construction crews. Even before I leave my studio apartment I can look out my window and see the debris of  a demolished single-family home, knocked down to put up four new units,according to a mailing I received from the city planning department. (A new apartment building is going up where a parking lot currently is for the apartment building next door.)

A block from my residence is the first major construction site, a new multistory apartment building that is being erected on the footprint of recently demolished early 1960s motel-style housing that the guy who works at the Thai restaurant across the street said was probably built to house visitors to the 1962 World's Fair. This morning there were a least two flaggers and half-a-dozen carpenters visible on the street.

Next up, down the western flank of Capitol Hill and over the I-5 viaduct, is the Denny Substation Project, a massive utility upgrade, which is no doubt made necessary by the megalopolis Amazon is constructing north of Westlake Center, the next major construction site on my bipedal commute. As I believe I've mentioned before, this is the largest amount of new commercial construction that I have seen at one time in one area. It stretches for blocks.

Finally, before I arrive at the labor temple, there is extensive road work on both 3rd Avenue and 2nd Avenue, part of the nearly $1 billion city transportation levy passed in 2015. Heavy Caterpillar, Komatsu and John Deere machinery; concrete saws, mounds of asphalt, rock and the large hods to move it.

Then right as I enter my building I have to wind my way through a different construction crew that is putting on a new roof for the office building next door.

All of this by way of saying this is as good as it gets in terms of neoliberal capitalism right now in the United States. Yet homelessness is everywhere. Walking out of my neighborhood supermarket Monday evening I passed a guy sleeping right on the busy Broadway sidewalk, a not unusual sight (sort of a "Calcutta on the Sound" gestalt). The subliminal message to all us working stiffs was plain as day. Lose your job, and you could be next. This is life in the land of the precarious, home of the feckless.

Crosscut has done several good stories on homelessness; one, by Joe Copeland, talks about how Vienna has effectively addressed it:
Vienna certainly has advantages: The federal government covers more than half of the roughly $700 million a year spent there on “social housing,” the subsidized units that house about 60 percent of the city’s population. These dwellings have some sort of subsidy for construction or operation, a concept that’s very different from the public housing practices in this country that give a small percentage of people a break but come nowhere near making rents broadly affordable.
The city also owns a lot of land where it can develop the housing complexes (at least one Viennese architect advises never selling public land). And it uses its advantages smartly: Menking says that the practice of awarding housing projects to nonprofits encourages collaborations with architects, and quality counts in making awards. The result: housing that incorporates — and creates — the best of urban life.
As Sharon Lee of Seattle’s Low Income Housing Institute notes, about 100,000 households here are paying more than 30 percent of their income for housing, many of them forking out more than 50 percent. Seattle could benefit from 60,000 more affordable units, she says — not the 50,000 total new units, most at market rate, that the mayor hopes to see built.
Vienna’s tradition is vastly different than ours; it’s supported by people who are willing to pay taxes for housing, health care and transit. There’s no prospect at the moment that national politics in the United States will lead to the kind of federal support that would make a huge difference in housing affordability.
But Seattle’s voters have acted almost European in approving taxes for transit and housing. Although the city turns the Vienna model of mixing incomes upside down by allowing developers to fund affordable housing elsewhere rather than including it in their own buildings, it does have some experience in making use of the nonprofit sector along Austrian lines.
LIHI’s Lee points out that, beyond Seattle’s longstanding housing levy, there’s a new factor. Councilmembers Kshama Sawant and Lisa Herbold managed to insert $29 million in housing bonds into the city budget for this year. Lee thinks the idea could tap into the kind of spirit that energized Seattle’s campaign for a $15 per hour minimum wage.
Jonathan Rosenblum, the author of a book about that campaign called “Beyond $15,” has been writing about the need for “a massive public housing program” in Seattle. His idea for financing it would be a local version of an income tax. That likely raises issues with the state constitution, which courts have interpreted as barring any income tax unless it were a flat rate. But where there’s a will, there may be a way to tackle at least part of the need.
It’s not something that will happen overnight. But perhaps we can take some small consolation — confidence — in knowing that Vienna’s emphasis on affordable residences dates from a housing crisis a century ago. 

I find myself reading RT more these days. This story, "Liberty lost? Americans increasingly unhappy with levels of freedom, survey says," caught my eye this morning. Gallup has found that U.S. citizens are feeling more oppressed:
America is often referred to as the "Land of the Free," but as citizens prepare to celebrate the Fourth of July, their satisfaction with the country's freedom is significantly lower than it was a decade ago, according to a newly released Gallup poll.
The survey found that although 91 percent of Americans were satisfied with the freedom in their lives in 2006, only 75 percent feel the same way today.
Furthermore, while the US ranked 11th worldwide (out of 118 countries) in the 2006 Gallup poll, it came in 71st (among 139 countries) in the current poll.
"This puts the US in the bottom half of all countries measured," Gallup managing partner Jon Clifton wrote on the organization’s blog.
The US decline is unique, as such results are not happening in other wealthy democracies.
For example, Denmark, Finland, and Canada were all tied for first place in 2006, with 96 percent of their populations satisfied with their freedom. Those figures are "virtually unchanged" in the recent poll, with all three remaining in the top 11.
[The results are likely worse than stated since "freedom" is a dog whistle in the United States, a subliminal key that triggers the average conservative respondent to assert her/his superiority.] 
As for the financial situations of Americans, Clifton noted that "despite widespread reports that the US economy is improving, many Americans may not be feeling the same economic gains in their daily lives."
He noted that although household income is up since 2011, it's flat since 2007. He went on to state that workforce participation is the lowest it's been in 40 years, despite unemployment dropping below 5 percent. 
The precariat is real. My guess is that it has to do with ever-rising prices of the essentials -- housing, health care, food, education -- combined with the ever-dimming prospects of securing remunerative employment. That is the base. The superstructure is the disappearance of belief in progress. This is huge for Americans because the national mythology is predicated on progress. Better stuff to buy. Bigger house. Come to the U.S. and live your dream. It doesn't work anymore. That's why Trump was elected. People are pissed and they want to blow shit up. And Trump is delivering.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Trump's Last Gasp in Syria

UPDATE: Today a Pentagon spokesman backed up last night's White House statement that the Syrian government was mixing up a batch of chemical weapons (in order to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory). According to "U.S. Has Seen Chemical Weapons Activity in Syria, Pentagon Says," by Helene Cooper and Ben Hubbard, which has run all day with only modest changes:
Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters that what looked like active preparations for a chemical attack were seen at Al Shayrat airfield, which was struck in April by American cruise missiles two days after the Syrian government dropped bombs loaded with toxic chemicals in northern Syria. Another Defense Department official said that an aircraft shelter at Al Shayrat that had been hit by an American Tomahawk missile was being used for the preparation.
 Syrian and Russian officials rejected the accusation, calling the White House statement a provocation.
The Pentagon comments appeared to shore up the unusual statement Monday night by the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, who warned that Syria was preparing for what looked like another chemical weapons attack, and said that the United States would not hesitate to act if one was launched. But that statement appeared to take defense officials off guard. An official with the United States Central Command, which oversees combat operations in the Middle East, said Monday night that he had “no idea” what the White House statement was referring to.
A White House official said on Tuesday that relevant agencies, including the Pentagon, the State Department, the C.I.A. and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, had been involved in issuing the statement.
A defense official said that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis was aware of the movements at Al Shayrat and that the White House statement was coming. The situation “was very fast-moving,” the official said on Tuesday.
Since the divulged intelligence is so specific -- a bombed aircraft shelter at Al Shayrat -- why not go further and describe the suspicious movements? Are there men in hazmat bunny suits screwing canisters together?

Judging from the story's comments section, NYT readers are not buying it one bit. RoseMai from Boston, Mass. provides a representative point of view:
Between the WMDs, the Gulf of Tonkin, the Iran-Contra affair, etc. etc., I do not trust any US "intelligence" to tell United States citizens the truth. I would not be a single bit surprised if our government used false information to drag us into another foreign conflict.
And why Syria? There have been whole genocides thate've turned a blind eye to. This country does nothing on conscience alone.
No more! Focus on fixing what's wrong at home before even entertaining the idea of venturing abroad. We certainly have enough problems to keep us busy for a long time.
This contrasts will the lone opinion attached to the AP story of last night's White House statement that appears on the Kurdish news site Rudaw, The Kurdish Boy comments
Go ahead , and destroy all the enemies of America . Help the Kurds to bring peace and some humanity into a region ravaged by savagery. May God bless Trump and the Kurds.
I don't think he's being facetious.

The sentiment is not that much different on Eliot Higgins' Bellingcat website; it is just that with Higgins there is a greater degree of obfuscation. Take for instance Higgins' attempted refutation of Sy Hersh's latest, "Trump's Red Line." Higgins picks apart the inconsistencies between initial Syrian and Russian explanations of what happened at Khan Sheikhoun with the confidential source(s) Hersh relies on for his reconstruction of events:
In the face of allegations of chemical weapon use neither Russia nor Syria mention targeting “a jihadist meeting site”, and described the location as a “large warehouse” on the “eastern outskirts of Khan Shaykhun”, not a “two-story cinder-block building in the northern part of town” with “security, weapons, communications, files and a map center.” In fact, the only thing Hersh’s account and the Russian and Syria account agrees on is it was a Syrian aircraft which conducted the attack.
But Higgins completely ignores the 900-lb.gorilla that is the main focus of Hersh's piece in Die Welt. Information about the flight of the Syrian warplane that Higgins believes was the source of the sarin attack was fully shared by Russia with the United States over the deconfliction channel.

Does Higgins imagine that Russia would alert the U.S. to Syria's use of sarin? Maybe Higgins believes that the Syrians tricked the Russians and replaced the conventional bomb with a chemical weapon (which sounds like something from a 1960s situation comedy).

But now we're in "magic bullet" territory, which is where most of Higgins' arguments lead once the smoke clears and the mirrors crack. Higgins cannot ask the basic "Cui bono," but a commentator on his web site does:
Jim Miles - June 27, 2017
Follow the ‘needs’ – the U.S. needs an excuse to go after Assad regardless of Russia’s presence. The U.S. is the single largest purveyor of violence and creator of terror in the world. Another country dismembered (after Yugoslavia, Iraq, and Libya) will greatly help its control of US fiat petrodollar hegemony as well as to contain and deconstruct both Russia and China. The U.S.’ wonderful democratic progressive government of Saudi Arabia is fully in on this deal, along with its sidekick, Israel.The U.S. also has a first strike nuclear policy and the crazies within the deep state – and its not all that deep – are willing to create a situation In which it could use those weapons.

It appears the follow-up false flag to the April 4 Khan Sheikhoun attack is here. As the NYT reports:
WASHINGTON — The White House said late Monday that President Bashar al-Assad of Syria appeared to be preparing another chemical weapons attack, and warned that he would “pay a heavy price” if one took place.
Several military officials were caught off guard by the statement from President Trump’s press secretary, but it was unclear how closely held the intelligence regarding a potential chemical attack was.
In the statement, the White House said that Mr. Assad’s preparations appeared similar to the ones Western intelligence officials believe the Syrian government made before a chemical attack in April that killed dozens of Syrians, including children.
“As we have previously stated, the United States is in Syria to eliminate the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria,” the statement said. “If, however, Mr. Assad conducts another mass murder attack using chemical weapons, he and his military will pay a heavy price.”
I'm surprised that it took this long. Moon of Alabama explains that the timing has to to do with the G-20 summit in July:
During the last three days Al-Qaeda attacks on Syrian army position near the Israeli occupied Golan heights were supported by Israeli air attacks.
This all is clearly a coordinated operation by the "western" supporters of the Takfiris in Syria. Their aim is to prevent the victory of Syria and its allies and to split up the country.
The announced fake "chemical attack" and the "retaliation" it is supposed to justify will likely happen in the south-west of Syria around Deraa where all recent attempts by Israel and the U.S. supported Takfirs to dislodge the Syrian government forces have failed. The provocation, now prepared and announced by Macron and the White House and supported by the UK, is likely planned to happen shortly before or during the upcoming G-20 meeting in Hamburg:
President Trump and members of his administration are requesting a full bilateral meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G-20 summit in Germany next month....
While some administration officials have pressed for a quick "pull-aside" meeting at the Group of 20 summit or lower officials talking privately instead of the heads of state, Trump wants an event that includes the media and time for work sessions, according to one government official.
Trump has to make a deal (or war) with Russia and the announced fake "chemical attack" will be the pressure point against Putin. The neoconservatives want to break up Syria and Trump is tasked to get the Russian agreement for that (... or else.) 
Syria insists that its has no chemical weapons nor any intention to use any indiscriminate weapon. Russia warns of any further military aggression and calls such U.S. threats unacceptable.
At this point Russia cannot buckle. To turn the other cheek again after the military campaign against the jihadists is progressing to its final stages would be to acquiesce to perpetual meddling by the U.S., Israel and the Gulf monarchies. Syria would be carved up; so too Iraq. Iran would be next as NATO marches continually eastward.

This appears to be the moment that Syria has been moving toward for the last six years. Remember Hassan Nasrallah explaining why Hezbollah was going all in in Syria? Because if Syria falls we're next. Syria is now on the verge of a victory, something that Israel and Saudi Arabia cannot abide. Trump is being made to walk the plank.

The anti-Trump prestige press I'm sure would like to protest, but they've painted themselves into a corner with their past fulsome support for Ghouta and Khan Sheikhoun. The best we get is from The Times story:
Monday’s message appeared designed to set the stage for another possible military strike. After Mr. Assad allegedly used chemical weapons in April, the American military fired 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at the air base his government had used to launch the attack.
"[A]llegedly used chemical weapons" is an improvement on the usual bald assertion that Syria used sarin at Khan Sheikhoun. Maybe Sy Hersh's "Trump's Red Line," though assiduously ignored in the mainstream, is having an impact nonetheless.

Yesterday I contacted the guy, Paul McLeary, who aggregates Foreign Policy's daily Situation Report and asked him why no link to Hersh's story in Die Welt. He replied, "We squeeze in all we can, but some things, like a Hersh piece, need some serious vetting first."

To which I responded:
According to Die Welt, not what you would consider a fringe publication to begin with, "Trump's Red Line" has been vetted: "As has always been his practice, Hersh has told Welt am Sonntag [German Sunday paper; same publisher, Axel Springer, as Die Welt] the identities of all the sources he quotes anonymously in his story about Trump's retaliatory strike against Syria. The paper was thus able to speak independently to the central source in the U.S."
Andrew Cockburn tweeted yesterday about the universal silence that greeted "Trump's Red Line" in the mainstream: "No surprise. Reference Upton Sinclair: their salaries absolutely depend on not listening to Hersh."

Now at least we have arrived at the 11th hour. Either the war draws down or it becomes much larger. Better hope for the former

Monday, June 26, 2017

Assange on the Future of the Democratic Party + Seymour Hersh's "Trump's Red Line"

UPDATE II: As an old Naderite, I have to include this passage from Jon Schwartz's interview with Ralph about the floundering Democratic Party which was published yesterday in The Independent:
RN: [Another] millstone is they could never contrast themselves with the Republicans on military foreign policy – because they were like them. They never question the military budget, they never question the militarized foreign policy, like Hillary the hawk on Libya, who scared the generals and ran over [Defense Secretary Robert] Gates who opposed her going to the White House to [push for] toppling the regime, metastasizing violence in seven or eight African countries to this day.
So they knocked out foreign and military policy, because they were getting money from Lockheed and Boeing and General Dynamics and Raytheon and so on. Even Elizabeth Warren when she had a chance started talking about maintaining those contracts with Raytheon. Here’s the left wing of the party talking about Raytheon, which is the biggest corporate welfare boondoggle east of the Pecos.
[Another] millstone is: Nobody gets fired. They have defeat after defeat, and they can’t replace their defeated compadres with new, vigorous, energetic people. Labor unions, the same thing. They [stay in positions] into their eighties no matter how screwed up the union is. You don’t get fired no matter how big the loss is, unlike in the business community, where you get fired.
The last millstone is, they make sure by harassing progressive third parties that the third party never pushes them. I’m an expert on that. They try to get them off the ballot. We had twenty-four lawsuits in twelve weeks in the summer of 2004 to get us off the ballots of dozens of states by the Democratic Party. Whereas if we got five percent, six percent of the vote they would be under great pressure to change their leadership and change their practice because there would be enough American voters who say to the Democrats, “We do have some place to go,” a viable third party. They harass them, they violate civil liberties, they use their Democrat-appointed judges to get bad decisions or harassing depositions. Before [third parties] finally clear the deck one way or the other it’s Labor Day and they’ve got an eight-week campaign.
There are some people who think the Democratic Party can be reformed from within by changing the personnel. I say good luck to that. What’s happened in the last twenty years? They’ve gotten more entrenched. Get rid of Pelosi, you get Steny Hoyer. You get rid of Harry Reid, you get [Charles] Schumer. Good luck.
Unfortunately, to put it in one phrase, the Democrats are unable to defend the United States of America from the most vicious, ignorant, corporate-indentured, militaristic, anti-union, anti-consumer, anti-environment, anti-posterity [Republican Party] in history.
End of lecture.

UPDATE: Here's more fuel for Assange's gloomy prediction. From this morning's Significant Digits by Walt Hickey:
An Associated Press study of U.S. House races found that Republicans may have gained up to 22 additional seats in the 2016 election due to redistricting. The AP’s analysis also found four times as many states with GOP-skewed state legislative maps as Democratic-skewed ones. [The Associated Press]
Democrats are not just in a straight up-or-down popularity contest with the GOP; they're also having to contend with scientifically engineered  gerrymandering which provides an enormous structural advantage to the Republican Party.

That's why it is at least an even-money bet at this point that McConnell gets Trumpcare through the Senate. Because though it would seem like certain apocalypse for the party come 2018 if it destroys Medicaid, Republican leadership is no doubt pitching the strength of its gerrymander as a fail-safe.


Julian Assange has posted six reasons why the Democratic Party is doomed. The last two read as follows:
5. GOP/Trump has open goals everywhere: broken promises, inequality, economy, healthcare, militarization, Goldman Sachs, Saudi Arabia & cronyism, but the Democrat establishment can't kick these goals since the Russian collusion narrative has consumed all its energy and it is entangled with many of the same groups behind Trump's policies.
6. The Democratic base should move to start a new party since the party elite shows no signs that they will give up power. This can be done quickly and cheaply as a result of the internet and databases of peoples' political preferences. This reality is proven in practice with the rapid construction of the Macron, Sanders and Trump campaigns from nothing. The existing Democratic party may well have negative reputational capital, stimulating a Macron-style clean slate approach. Regardless, in the face of such a threat, the Democratic establishment will either concede control or, as in the case of Macron, be eliminated by the new structure.
Point six reveals Assange's unfamiliarity with the arcane nature of U.S. election law. A viable third party in the United States is next to impossible because ballot access is determined by each of the 50 states; some of the requirements -- look at Texas -- are clearly prohibitive.

Macron's En Marche! is a poor example because it was an Establishment response to the collapse of the Socialist Party. The analogy would be more accurate if Sanders actually succeeds in capturing the Democratic Party. Then Mike Bloomberg might dig into his deep pockets and fund a U.S. version of En Marche! with Julian Castro as his Macron.

If the neoliberal Establishment maintains its control of the Democratic Party, which, based on a reading of Andrew Cockburn's latest in Harper's, "It’s My Party: The Democrats struggle to rise from the ashes," seems a safe bet, then we're going to have to go through a repeat of the 2016 Democratic primary; at which point, Bernie will have to decide if he has the chutzpah to go the third-party route. A lot will depend on who the neoliberal Establishment nominates.

But if the Democrats continue their present neo-McCarthyite course, and the Republicans manage to push through a version of Trumpcare which guts Medicaid, then Sanders should be able to win control of the party outright.

To catch a glimpse of the hurricane the Republicans are whipping up read Jordan Rau's "Medicaid Cuts May Force Retirees Out of Nursing Homes." Half of all U.S. births are paid for by Medicaid, and it pays for 64% of all nursing home residents:
Under federal law, state Medicaid programs are required to cover nursing home care. But state officials decide how much to pay facilities, and states under budgetary pressure could decrease the amount they are willing to pay or restrict eligibility for coverage.
“The states are going to make it harder to qualify medically for needing nursing home care,” predicted Toby S. Edelman, a senior policy attorney at the Center for Medicare Advocacy. “They’d have to be more disabled before they qualify for Medicaid assistance.”
States might allow nursing homes to require residents’ families to pay for a portion of their care, she added. Officials could also limit the types of services and days of nursing home care they pay for, as Medicare already does.
Trumpcare amounts to an enormous tax increase for the working class. Working people will have to assume an even greater financial burden to maintain parents in assisted living. The resulting shock and rage should be enough to sweep out the Wasserman-Schultz crowd.

Andrew Cockburn's Twitter feed includes a shout-out to Seymour Hersh's latest, "Trump‘s Red Line," published yesterday by Die Welt. The DIA and CIA knew that no sarin was used at Khan Sheikhoun because they knew exactly what the Syrian mission was -- what the objective was; what sort of munition the Syrian warplane was carrying -- because the Russians had informed them in advance.

Democrats need to drop the McCarthyism and find their anti-war voice.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Macron Puffing Begins Anew After Brief Respite of Realism

Western press adulation over Emmanuel Macron hit a rough patch following Sunday's legislative elections, summed up by the vile Adam Nossiter ("For Emmanuel Macron, Fight for France Is Just Beginning"):
Mr. Macron got 24 percent in a first round of presidential voting in April against three opponents who all finished close behind. On Sunday, a record-breaking 57 percent of French voters boycotted the polls, leading to much anguished commentary in French media and questions about the legitimacy of Mr. Macron’s victory. And only two of his deputies elected Sunday received more than 30 percent of the registered voters in their districts, in Le Monde’s reckoning.
From Mr. Macron’s point of view, Ms. Le Pen and Mr. Mélenchon will, at best, fill up airtime in Parliament. But at worst, theirs will be the voices for the union and street opposition that is already gathering against Mr. Macron to oppose his proposed changes to France’s rigid and job-killing labor code. [No reportorial bias there.] Both Ms. Le Pen and Mr. Mélenchon suggested Sunday night that this is where they will be concentrating their fire in the months to come.
“We will fight the new work law, which destroys the rights of employees,” Ms. Le Pen said, while Mr. Mélenchon warned against “the destruction of the entire social order, by this repeal of the labor code.”
But in the last few days cheerleading for Macron has begun anew. Yesterday's sour, blame-the-victim column ("Where Did ‘We the People’ Go?") by the clownish Thomas Friedman offered one ray of sunshine -- "Look at the new president of France."

Then there's Thomas Edsall's piece today, "The End of the Left and the Right as We Knew Them," about the realignment of traditional politics to the new axis of globalist vs. nationalist. The neoliberal elite are hankering for Macron to reinvent the brand while maintaining its redistribution of wealth to the 1%:
According to Steven Patrick of the Council on Foreign Relations, globalization and the Great Recession of 2007-9 have resulted in a “pervasive anxiety” that provides fertile grounds for populists who promise a reassertion of control and national sovereignty, including over borders, as well as a renewed focus on those left behind in the global economy.
Patrick shares with a number of internationalists the hope that Macron and En Marche represent a viable political solution to contemporary conflicts that could be applied in other countries:
Macron’s genius has been to argue that he can thread the political needle, by embracing globalization and reinforcing social protections to compensate those exposed to its downside. In the process, he has obliterated traditional parties of the left and the right, while promising a synthesis tailor made for the twenty-first century. If he can bring it off, he will become a model for other leaders to follow — including in the United States.
This "synthesis" is being pitched as a "Scandinavian-style" economy where people are constantly upgrading their skills in a rewarding holistic partnership with their nurturing employer. Liz Alderman explains in her interview ("In French Labor Overhaul, Union Leader Offers a Way to a Compromise") with the head of French Democratic Confederation of Labor, Laurent Berger, that
Mr. Macron wants to steer France toward a more Scandinavian-style economic model known as “flexible security.” Pioneered in Denmark, it promotes consensus between unions and employers, and it aims to minimize joblessness by making it easy for companies to adjust their work force and by retraining the unemployed.
The idea is to no longer protect jobs for life, while giving people skills to transition to different careers.
It should be called a "U.S.-style" economy since the United States went through this decades ago. Then it was Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich (now safe in a prestigious U.C. Berkeley sinecure) who extolled the flexibility of "knowledge workers." Twenty-five years later we know that "flexible" is merely a marketing term for "precarious."

The Macron camp is indulging in the type of "It's Morning in America Again" propaganda that is more than three-decades stale in the U.S. Republicans, if they use it all, mumble it under their breath like reciting the pledge of allegiance at a compulsory meeting. It doesn't work with anyone anymore. Once again I ask, "Are the French this stupid?" According to Nossiter,
The battle of ideas during the election campaign is far from over, in the view of Mr. Delevoye, the Macron camp veteran. “French society, in all its diversity, finds itself divided between those who are fearful of globalization, and those who want to undertake the adventure of the future,” he said. “What’s begun is a cultural change, which is moving from fear toward hope, and the liberty to create.”
The promised "liberty to come" will be delivered by the following market fixes Alderman lists:
Mr. Macron’s plans contain several elements that unions, including the C.F.D.T., see as red lines. Foremost is a proposal to allow employers to negotiate directly with employees on a range of workplace issues, overriding sector-wide accords struck by unions. Labor organizations also oppose a measure to cap compensation awards in unfair dismissal cases.
Basically a mortal wound for organized labor that will deliver the French working class over to the mercy of their employers.

So get ready. The doubts expressed in the legacy media about the strength of Macron's base of support in wake of the record level of abstention in the second round of voting Sunday is going to give way to superficial boosterism of the sort found in Ivan Krastev's "Central Europe’s Tough Choice: Macron or Orban?"
Polls show that a growing number of Europeans are betting on the European Union. Improved economies across the Continent, the miserable performance of populists in the Netherlands, and the humiliation suffered by the “hard Brexiteer” Theresa May in this month’s general election in Britain have made many Europeans hopeful that the European Union has received a second chance, and that it is going to make the most of it.
Emmanuel Macron’s decisive victories in France — first in the presidential election in May and then again in parliamentary elections last week — on a proudly pro-European platform have led many Europeans to believe that rather than disintegration, further integration may now be possible. The hope among the ever-closer-unionists is that Mr. Macron’s labor reforms in France will persuade Germany to invest more in eurozone economies. Meanwhile, plans for further investment in European defense are afoot.
But while infectious optimism is visible everywhere in Western Europe, the East has remained conspicuously unenthusiastic. The prospect of Eastern Europeans exiting the union — as the former Czech president Vaclav Klaus recently implored them to do — is still about as likely as President Vladimir Putin of Russia losing next year’s elections, but many in Eastern Europe are squeamish about German-French efforts to reorder Europe. Why?
The stakes are too high for anything approaching realism to intrude upon the media monopoly. If the French social compact can be vivisected, a race to the bottom throughout Europe will begin post-haste.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

What Difference Does It Make that Ossoff Lost?

UPDATE II: For another pitiless skewering of the Democrats, consult "Democrats Seethe After Georgia Loss: ‘Our Brand Is Worse Than Trump,’" by Alexander Burns and Jonathan Martin:
Others in the party were far more caustic, calling Mr. Ossoff’s defeat a warning to Democrats who see red-tinged suburban districts as the keys to winning power, and saying that Ms. Pelosi would undermine the party’s candidates for as long as she holds her post.
I agree. Pelosi became Speaker after the Democrats took control of the House following the 2006 midterms. She brought the Dems back, the story went, because she ran Blue Dogs in the suburbs. Well, Ossoff is basically a Blue Dog, and he didn't win. Maybe if he had been an ex-football star the outcome would have been different.

In any event, even if the Dems can Blue Dog their way back to a majority in 2018, the base is hankering for new leadership right now. After decades of centrist messaging and the steady drift rightward into the suffocating embrace of Goldman Sachs, the Democratic rank'n'file is not going to achieve any climax until there is a Momentum-like purge of DNC apparatchiks.

Problem is there is really no way to accomplish this. So expect business as usual: more hearings about Russia, more unchallenged troop deployments abroad to an ever-expanding list of conflict zones and possibly the end of Medicaid.

It is going to take another Bernie run, and then Bernie being blocked again by the DNC, for the party of Jackson to finally, thankfully, come to an end.


UPDATE: An accurate yet scathing mainstream indictment of the Democrats post-Ossoff can be found in Rick Klein's "Democrats face disarray after going bust in Georgia":
Nancy Pelosi emerged as a more effective messaging foil for Republicans than Donald Trump was for Democrats. The Republican establishment effectively rallied behind its candidates despite Trump’s polarizing presidency and the continued concerns over his leadership from inside that establishment.
Democrats don’t have a cohesive message or a road map for arriving at one. They surely haven’t proved that the House will be in play in 2018 — though it may well be — and Trump and his GOP brethren now feel emboldened for their governing agenda in 2017.
“Race better be a wake up call for Democrats -- business as usual isn't working. Time to stop rehashing 2016 and talk about the future,” Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., tweeted Tuesday night, in a widely noted piece of commentary. “We need a genuinely new message, a serious jobs plan that reaches all Americans, and a bigger tent not a smaller one.”

I work with a young guy. I think he has Asperger's. From what I can tell he stays somewhat informed of current events. Yesterday as we were getting ready to close the office I asked him if he had an opinion on the Ossoff race in Georgia's 6th CD. He said no. I was reminded of a laconic query he put to me last winter when it looked as if Marine Le Pen was a shoe-in to win the French presidency, prompting a spiel on my part about France leaving the EU. "What difference does it make?" he asked.

What difference does it make that Ossoff lost yesterday? For starters I think the chances of Trumpcare clearing the Senate improved exponentially. Republicans are going to stay firmly planted on Trump island as long as he continues to win. He inserted himself directly in Georgia's 6th CD, something he did in the primary as well, the race was a referendum on Trump, and the Republican Karen Handel won.

How bad Trumpcare will be is yet to be decided. We won't know, assuming McConnell gets something through the Senate, until the House-Senate conference reconciles the two versions. It will be bad, but maybe Medicaid will only be pared back and not turned into a block grant. If it is block-granted, it will pull down one of the pillars of the Great Society.

The GOP is probably smart enough to phase out Obamacare's Medicaid increases over a long period rather than taking a meat ax to the program immediately. The latter route guarantees Democratic takeover of Congress even if the Democrats are feckless.

Democrats in the Senate now will be under even more pressure to do whatever they can to block Trump given that Republicans are not going to abandon him anytime soon. There should be a complete change in messaging. Clearly the neo-McCarthyism has been a total failure. It is an enervating distraction that signifies nothing; enervating because the Democratic Party effectively no longer has a peace wing. What gave the party a competitive advantage in the past, going all the way back to '64 when LBJ disingenuously ran against Goldwater by saying he would keep the country out of war, is that it was the peace party; that, and it was the party of working class. Now it is neither.

As a commentator wrote on The New York Times website this morning:
The Democrat[s] didn't have a prayer. In the end, Americans want Trump, tax cuts for the wealthy and their Heath insurance rates to go up or...

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Prowler #6

I was in the coffee house down the block and to the east of where I work. I go there at lunch because they allow people to bring in food from outside --for me, a protein bar, an apple and a grapefruit -- as long as you order coffee. I get a double espresso and read the newspaper. The ceilings are high and the room long, like quarter-of-a-street-block long, with the counter situated in the middle. Sometimes even one of the six stuffed chairs is free.

Two weeks back I was sitting at a long dining-room table by myself when a young corporate man dressed in casual clothes came in and sat down at a table behind me. He was talking corporatese to someone on his smartphone. He went back up to the bar and ordered; then returned. After a while a young Asian-American woman, either Chinese or Korean, joined him. I am not sure if they greeted each other with an embrace or a handshake. She went back up to the bar and bought herself a coffee, complaining upon her return how long it had taken to be served. The young man agreed, saying it was horrible.

It was apparent from their conversation that they were friendly but not good friends. Maybe they knew each other at Stanford or Google. What they definitely shared in common was class. They were of the elite.

The young man spoke about just having moved from Singapore where he had been working. His wife had been getting a postgraduate degree at the London School at the same time. Now they were reunited and living in Seattle. (The guy probably worked at Amazon.)

He said that he and his wife had recently driven up to Vancouver (three-hours away and a border crossing) to get some good dim sum.

The conversation then pitched full throttle into food. Which area has the better Vietnamese, Seattle or Orange County? The young Asian-American woman, to the young man's astonishment, argued persuasively for Seattle.

It was at that point that I left. But the thought remained that class, while always with us, has returned in a big way. And the way to appreciate this is to focus on mobility. The elite are far more mobile now than those beneath them; or, put another way, those beneath the elite are far less mobile than they used to be, for they are the precariat.

Another way to appreciate this reassertion of elitism is to consider that Peter Parker, a.k.a., Spider-Man, is now the CEO of his own corporation, Parker Industries.

Even though I have a subscription, I don't think I have read Amazing Spider-Man regularly for at least five years. I did read the recent six-issue Prowler run, which was part of The Clone Conspiracy arc, a story line which refers back to an earlier cloning story published during the Watergate/Ford years.

The present arc pales in comparison to the original. Back in the mid-1970s Peter Parker was a regular guy in his twenties working as a photographer for The Daily Bugle who also just happened to be a superhero.

Thinking about those issues of Amazing Spider-Man this week, the Gerry Conway-Ross Andru issues from 1973-1975 -- from Gwen Stacey's death to her cloning by the Jackal -- issues I read as a kid when they came out, I was struck how they were able to accurately convey to a grade-schooler what life would be like.

When I got to my twenties I, like Peter Parker, was living in Manhattan. It was just as edgy, chaotic, violent and harrowing as depicted in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man. I wasn't swinging from midtown skyscrapers or slugging it out with Doctor Octopus, but I was brimming over with testosterone and careening from one bar fight to the next street fight on a conveyor belt of morning subway rides hungover on my way to a Madison Avenue office.

The Peter Parker of today is nothing like that. He is a CEO for Christ's sake!

What the current Clone Conspiracy does have is Hobie Brown, a.k.a, The Prowler, an everyman member of the precariat. A marginal player who has been both villain and hero. A significant portion of the dialogue in the recent six-issue run is the conversation that Hobie has with himself regarding his low self-opinion. Gnawing self-doubt, who doesn't know it?

In Prowler #6 Hobie is interviewed by Peter Parker for a permanent position with Parker Industries. The Prowler projects his mind forward to a lonely gray-bearded life of vigilante crime-busting. Then there is a counter-projection of a fulfilling life with a lovely wife and two children.

But on the last page Hobie is left alone in his small dark apartment staring at the mask of his alter ego.

We should all be able to relate.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Why Ossoff Needs to Win

UPDATE: Trump weighed in this morning with two "KAREN HANDEL FOR CONGRESS" Twitter posts that excoriated Ossoff for being a carpetbagger. Also, if the polling is to be trusted, late momentum is breaking Handel's way. Not a good sign for Ossoff. Maybe all those young voters allegedly newly registered are flying under the radar and they will in fact show up and vote Democrat. We'll see.


Nate Silver (see "Why The Georgia Special Election Matters") says the special election in Georgia's 6th CD is too close to call. Some models see Republican Karen Handel winning by a couple points, while recent polls have spooky, centrist Democrat wunderkind Jon Ossoff up by a couple points.

Silver susses it all out exhaustively. I think he is correct when he says that the prime motivation for the GOP to repeal Obamacare will be lost with an Ossoff win:
As I said, however, the vote comes at a critical time for Republicans — and extracting any signal at all from Georgia might be enough to influence their behavior. Republicans really are in a pickle on health care. The AHCA is so unpopular that they’d have been better off politically letting it die back in March, at least in my view. But I don’t have a vote in Congress and Republicans do, and they’ve tallied the costs and benefits differently, given that the bill has already passed the House and is very much alive in the Senate. The central political argument Republicans have advanced on behalf of the bill is that failing to pass it would constitute a broken promise to repeal Obamacare, demotivating the GOP base. That argument will lose credibility if a Democrat wins in a traditionally Republican district despite what looks as though it will be high turnout.
McConnell can lose two GOP votes and still pass Trumpcare. Pence would break a 50-50 tie. The reporting done recently, as the Senate has pieced together its repeal of the Affordable Care Act in private, has focused on what the American Health Care Act is really all about -- not just abolishing Obamacare but destroying the Great Society's Medicaid.

To get Trumpcare through the Senate, McConnell is going to have to win the votes of Republican Senators from Medicaid-dependent states like Ohio (Rob Portman) and West Virginia (Shelley Capito) without losing troglodytes like Ted Cruz and Mike Lee. Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski are likely already lost to McConnell, which means that the future of Medicaid could come down to a guy like Colorado's Cory Gardner, a mediocrity who edged out incumbent Mark Udall by a mere two points in 2014.

Gardner knows that a vote for Trumpcare will likely end his Senate career. So I'm sure he will be watching with rapt attention the returns from Georgia tomorrow. If a carpetbagging flim-flammer like Ossoff can ride into Newt's old stomping ground on a flying carpet of out-of-state cash and win, then the Republicans are going to be running scared.

Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns writing in "High-Stakes Referendum on Trump Takes Shape in a Georgia Special Election" see the dam about to burst:
“It’s a race that we have to win,” said State Senator Brandon Beach, a Republican whose district includes part of the terrain being fought on here.
Republican officials worry that if Mr. Ossoff wins, it would send a resounding statement about the intensity of the backlash to Mr. Trump, prompting incumbents to think twice about running for re-election, slowing fund-raising and, most significantly, further imperiling their already-stalemated legislative agenda.
“It’s not just symbolic — we really can’t afford to lose any seats at this point,” said Representative Tom Rooney, Republican of Florida, noting that “the factions” among congressional Republicans make their majorities more tenuous in practice than they may seem on paper.
In a district that was once nobody’s idea of “swing,” the parties themselves have elevated the stakes. The two candidates and outside groups have now spent more than $51 million.
In any event, Medicaid needs to be protected at all costs. Without a fully-funded Medicaid, or with a block-granted Medicaid, our whole system of elder care (think nursing homes) is in danger. That's why I hope Ossoff wins tomorrow.

Macron's Reign Will be Bloody and Enormously Unpopular

After the first round of voting for the France's National Assembly, the adulatory pro-Macron reporting noticeably shifted to one of foreboding. Macron's nascent La République En Marche! might clean up in the second round, but clearly, because of record low turnout, it did not have a mandate.

According to Alissa Rubin, Aurelien Breeden and Benoit Morenne in "Emmanuel Macron’s Party and Allies Win Big in France":
The record-low turnout, about 43 percent, dimmed Mr. Macron’s victory and pointed to the tentative, even ambivalent, view of many French citizens toward his promises to transform France.
“Many people are in a state of uncertainty, a ‘wait and see,’” said Luc Rouban, a professor at the Center for the Study of French Political Life at Sciences Po.
“The level of abstention in the second round is a sign that a large part of the working-class electorate are not going to vote anymore,” Mr. Rouban said, describing the sense of alienation evident in the abstention as “an invisible fracture” separating the poorest and more modestly off members of French society from the rest.
Mr. Macron’s opponents seized on the abstention rate to try to discredit his victory. The leader of the far-left France Unbowed party, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, said the abstention level was “crushing,” adding, “Our people have entered into a form of civic general strike.” He suggested that with such a high number of people declining to vote, the government was robbed of its legitimacy.
En Marche! ended up winning 351 out of 577 seats, more than enough to reduce pensions and roll back labor law. The French are about to be treated to some Greek austerity. The concern in the legacy media is that large street protests are inevitable given the record level of abstention. The ranks of En Marche! are populated by neophytes. There is no indication that a rejuvenation of neoliberalism is in the making. In fact, every indication is that Macron's reign will be bloody and enormously unpopular.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Russia Appears to Have Blown Up Caliph Baghdadi

The reporting (see Andrew Kramer's "Russian Military Says It Might Have Killed ISIS Leader") of the demise of ISIS potentate Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has the ring of truth to it. At the end of May Baghdadi was powwowing with other Islamic State honchos and hundreds of fighters in the desert outside Raqqa when two Russian Sukhoi fighter jets blew them all to kingdom come.

Whether Russia knew ahead of time that Baghdadi would be present or whether a regular patrol combing the desert for concentrations of jihadists got lucky is unclear. I suspect the latter, and that over the last two weeks intelligence agencies of the major players have picked up chatter from the collapsing caliphate that its emir is no longer among the living.

Lavrov has been reticent to claim the public relations windfall, though there is an acknowledgement in the Western prestige press that Russia bagging Baghdadi pulls down the major rhetorical pillar erected by the Obama administration that the Russians weren't fighting ISIS but merely enabling a ruthless dictator. As Kramer explains,
Russia intervened in the Syrian civil war in 2015; it said at first that cargo planes flying to a Syrian air base carried only humanitarian aid, but later openly announced a military operation. The Kremlin’s stated goal was fighting the Islamic State, lest it gain a stronghold in Syria not far from restive, predominantly Muslim regions in southern Russia.
But the Obama administration said that the pattern of airstrikes showed that Russia’s real intention was to prop up the government of President Bashar al-Assad, a Russian ally battling a range of opposition groups, including moderate rebels. The killing of the Islamic State’s leader, if confirmed, would help bolster Russia’s initial justification for its intervention — that its goal all along was to fight terrorism.
My feeling all along is that Baghdadi is merely a figurehead, that the operations and strategy of the Islamic State are determined by foreign intelligence agencies aligned with the United States. His death is nonetheless a significant event, another portent that the diabolical perversion of the Arab Spring by the United States and its allies is running out of steam.