Monday, July 31, 2017

White House Afraid the Venezuelan Constituent Assembly Might Actually Work

The Trump administration is ratcheting up sanctions on Venezuela, designating president Nicolas Maduro. According to Bloomberg:
The Trump administration is imposing sanctions directly on Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro after the vote Sunday that was a step toward rewriting his country’s constitution.

In an unusual move against a foreign leader, the Treasury Department’s designation freezes any of Maduro’s assets subject to U.S. jurisdiction and prevents U.S. persons from dealing with him. The measures were announced in a statement on the Treasury’s website on Monday.

“Yesterday’s illegitimate elections confirm that Maduro is a dictator who disregards the will of the Venezuelan people,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement. “By sanctioning Maduro, the United States makes clear our opposition to the policies of his regime and our support for the people of Venezuela who seek to return their country to a full and prosperous democracy.”
Venezuela, a founding member of OPEC, has the world’s largest proven reserves and is South America’s largest oil exporter. It’s the third-largest supplier to the U.S. -- sending 10 percent of its imports last year -- and the top supplier to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast, home of the largest cluster of refiners in the world.
Less than a week before Sunday’s vote, the U.S. sanctioned 13 senior Venezuela officials, including the interior minister and the national oil company’s vice president for finance, which sparked defiance and condemnation from Maduro. In February, it put Venezuelan Vice President Tareck El Aissami on a list of foreign nationals subject to economic sanctions because of suspected ties to the narcotics trade.
There was tension inside the White House in recent weeks about which additional measures to adopt, including a potential ban on oil imports, according to people familiar with the discussions. The debate reflected concerns over the potential impact on U.S. gasoline prices and over the humanitarian situation in Venezuela, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing internal deliberations.
While the National Security Council views limiting Venezuelan crude as a powerful weapon, the State Department has argued that cutting off a major piece of the country’s foreign trade could harm already suffering Venezuelans. There is significant sensitivity to the impact on Venezuelan people, one of the people said.
The American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, the largest association of U.S. refiners, had urged Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and other cabinet officials to exempt Venezuelan crude imports from a possible sanctions package.
Bets on a Venezuelan default are climbing. The implied probability of the country missing a payment over the next year has risen to 62 percent, according to data compiled by Bloomberg on credit-default swaps. That’s the highest level since March 2016.
Investors’ bets reflect international concerns about the nation’s shaky political underpinning. The European Union “has grave doubts” about whether the election results can be recognized, spokeswoman Mina Andreeva said Monday.
Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Argentina, Chile and Panama issued statements saying they wouldn’t recognize Sunday’s vote, while U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said she would not accept an illegitimate government.
It seems unlikely that Venezuelan crude will be targeted given the pull of petroleum in Trump's White House. But if it is, it is essentially a declaration of war.

The domestic opposition didn't disrupt the Sunday's vote as promised. Even the incredibly and consistently anti-Chavez/Maduro NYT acknowledged:
The opposition made little headway in opposing the weekend of the vote. Leaders canceled a rally scheduled in the afternoon because of the clashes rocking the country. A demonstration on Friday, billed as a last stand against the vote, was poorly attended.
Instead, opposition members took to their social media accounts to drum up support.
“Today’s journey has been one of abstention and repression, with dead and wounded,” wrote Henrique Capriles [which the NYT basically repeated],  the opposition governor of the state of Miranda who narrowly lost to Mr. Maduro in 2013’s presidential election and was banned this year from running again. “A monumental failure!”
The focus of many voters in Caracas seemed to be on food, not politics. Venezuela remains in an economic tailspin, causing severe shortages of food and medicine.
“When the opposition got the National Assembly they said there would be food, and now it’s even worse,” said Juan Carlos Hernández, 43, a government employee who said he supported Mr. Maduro.
“The first thing I’m asking of the constitutional assembly is that they start putting out food,” he said, “because if they don’t, the people are going to get angry.”
I suppose the fear that is prompting Washington's hostile response is found in the quote above from the government employee. What if the constituent assembly actually does the trick and pulls Venezuela back from the brink? It would be a compelling statement for direct democracy. Even if one concedes the mainstream media's dismissal of the constituent assembly as nothing more than Socialist Party goons, you can't argue with results like more food and better policing. According to a story in The Independent:
The winners among the 5,500 ruling-party candidates running for 545 seats in the constituent assembly will have the task of rewriting the country's constitution and will have powers above and beyond other state institutions, including the opposition-controlled congress.
Mr Maduro made clear in a televised address on Saturday that he intends to use the assembly not just to rewrite the country's charter, but to govern without limitation.
The propaganda belching out of organs of the prestige press asserts, without any proof other than statements from the opposition, that participation in the informal July 16 anti-assembly referendum was robust; then it follows up, also without any proof, with a statement that turnout was poor for Sunday's vote. The Times article is a good example:
However, some polls leading up to Sunday’s voting showed that large majorities of Venezuelans did not think their country needed a new Constitution.
This month, Venezuelans issued a stinging rebuke to Mr. Maduro by turning out in droves during a symbolic vote held by the opposition. More than seven million votes were cast, opposition leaders said, with 98 percent against rewriting the Constitution.
Election officials said on Sunday night that eight million people cast ballots, which would represent more than 40 percent of eligible voters. But lines observed by reporters throughout the country on Sunday cast doubt on the figure. An independent estimate by the investment bank Torino Capital, based on a poll of voting centers, estimated that between 3.1 million and four million voters cast ballots. [This is a joke, right?]
One thing we can be sure of -- the more successful the constituent assembly, the greater the chance Washington will enhance its strategy of tension. Add another theater to the U.S. war cineplex.

Doubts about the Future of Rojava

The Independent is publishing a series of Aleppo dispatches written by veteran Middle East journalist Robert Fisk. His latest, "Woe betide the Kurds of northern Syria when the war is over," provides perspective on the war between Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham:
You do not need a PhD in intelligence to understand what is happening. Ahrar al-Sham, largely supported by Qatar and Turkey, is at war with al-Nusrah whose support has come from Saudi Arabia (and Qatar in the past) and, so far as the Syrians are concerned, from the United States. For the Syrians, the Qatar-Saudi dispute is now being fought out on the ground between the two sides’ proxies in the Syrian war. The first battles broke out in Tel Torgan in Aleppo province and then expanded to Saragib in the countryside round Idlib. In Saragib, it appears, Nusrah killed every Ahrar man they found. Now Ahrar al-Sham have an alliance with the Turkmani groups and the gloriously named ‘Nureddin Zinki’, local fighters who once played a role in the capture of eastern Aleppo. The real Nureddin al-Zinki – or Zengi as he would have been called at the time – was a 12th century Seljuk emir of Damascus and Aleppo who fought the Crusaders but who, ironically, was also trapped in a series of internecine battle with regional Arab rivals.
It's not clear who Fiske is interviewing in the air-conditioned apartment in Aleppo, if it's Syrian intelligence or regular men off the street; nonetheless, the opinion rendered is a bleak one for Rojava:
But it was the Kurdish fighters who enraged the men in the room almost as much as Isis and Nusrah. “The Kurds think they can form their own canton in northern Syria,” said the man beside the desk. “They are like the Israelis – they are telling the world that they are alone, surrounded by enemies and must be protected. But 80 per cent of the Kurdish people do not want to be separated from Syria. The Kurds like to think they can link up with the Americans, the Germans, the French, the Turks, with all of these big states.
“But Russia was betrayed by them. These Kurdish groups are liars. We gave them weapons to fight the terrorists – now we no longer give them weapons to protect themselves. We did not give them weapons so that they could make states. Now they are fully supplied by the Americans.”
Much nodding of heads around the room. The Kurds will clearly get no state in the north of the country if Syria has its way. “The Kurds are very afraid from Turkey,” the man beside the desk continued. “You know how the Kurds after the First World War lost everything. They did not get a state. They were the first losers, they were like a doll in the game of powers. They killed half the people of Cilicia, Armenians and Cilicians. Now they are trying to play the game again in the politics of the region – but they will lose.”
The rebels will surrender or die. This was the mood – hopelessly simplistic or true, depending on your point of view – in the air-conditioned room in that Aleppo apartment block. But woe betide the Kurds of northern Syria when the war is over.
It's hard to imagine the U.S. letting go of its bases in Rojava, particularly with the Western-patron-pleasing announcement of local elections. But if Trump is still seriously considering retreat from Afghanistan, then it's possible.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Hippies vs. Punks: Minutemen's Project: Mersh (1985)

I have developed a block about this post. I think it has something to do with a clear memory I have of playing this record, the Minutemen's Project: Mersh (1985) EP, on my 21st birthday. The summer sun was shining brightly. I drank beer from one of my high-school debate trophies. I stood in the living room of a second-story apartment near the U.C. Berkeley campus. My girlfriend was there, and so too was my father. My father had driven down from Solano County to celebrate the occasion. I was now officially a man.

Last month I finished reading Michael T. Fournier's 33 1/3 series book devoted to the Minutemen's Double Nickels on the Dime (1984) double album.

To my mind the high point of the 1980s was 1984, when, between April and July, SST Records released Meat Puppets II, Hüsker Dü's Zen Arcade double album and the Minutemen's Double Nickels on the Dime. (Of the three, Double Nickels is the only one to make the Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Albums list.)

Taken together it was as if a brand-new counterculture had been formed in the space of a summer, and I was part of it. But what was it?

It was Hardcore, but not of the clownish, reactionary, dress-coded Nazi Punk variety. The Hardcore of Double Nickels, Zen Arcade and Meat Puppets II welcomed everyone who wanted to listen. It was politically engaged, openly intellectual (Double Nickels devoted songs to Dmitri Shostakovich and James Joyce), guileless and egalitarian. Primarily, it espoused an ethic of do-it-yourself hard work.

Imagine the Hippies without all the "Summer of Love" marketing overlays and metaphysical pretensions, and the First Wave U.K. Punks without their perfunctory negativity, and you get a sense of what SST Hardcore 1984 was like. Another world is possible. So let's just do it. (Nike cashed in on "Just Do It" later in the decade. Without being preceded by the Hardcore avant-garde, I doubt the shoe company could have.)

Fournier's book reminded me of several things about Double Nickels that I had forgotten. I remembered that the double-album length was a response to Hüsker Dü's planned release of the double-album Zen Arcade ("Take that Hüsker!" appears somewhere on the gate-fold Double Nickels album cover), but it had slipped my mind that the Minutemen had copied Pink Floyd's Ummagumma (1969) in giving each band member his own side of the record. Double Nickels has a D. Boon side, a Mike Watt side and George Hurley side. The fourth side is labeled "Chaff."

Another aspect of the album that I had forgotten is that the title refers to butt rocker Sammy Hagar's 1984 smash hit "I Can't Drive 55." In Double Nickels on the Dime the Minutemen are saying "We drive 55 m.p.h. on Interstate 10. So what? Does that make us square? What does speeding have to do with making music?"

After listening to the double album again non-stop for two weeks, I realized that I couldn't do it justice. There were several years, probably 1985 to 1987, when I pretty much exclusively listened to Bob Dylan and the Minutemen at night, and Van Morrison in the morning. It was a dividing-line period in my life, a time when I came to believe that "doing-your-own-thing" in a do-it-yourself fashion was more important than status, than acquiring a four-year degree and then quickly moving on to graduate or law school.

While it's too daunting at this point to take on Double Nickels, I thought I could manage the follow-up, Project: Mersh, the six-song EP released the winter of 1985 that contains the last great Minutemen song before the death of lead singer/guitarist D. Boon in December of that year.

The EP is three A-side songs, and three B-side songs adorned with a painting by D. Boon lampooning cigar-chomping record executives, one of whom proclaims, "I got it! We'll have them write hit songs!"

The big departure from previous albums is that the songs, with the exception of the final track, "More Spiel," are more conventional in structure. Gone is the 90-second free-jazzesque deconstruction of the pop tune, like in "Polarity" off What Makes a Man Start Fires (1983). Most of the tracks on Double Nickels are approximately 90 seconds; in fact, the longest song on the double album is two minutes 55 seconds.

An important point about the Minutemen in particular, Hardcore Punk in general, and one that connects it with the psychedelic ballroom San Francisco Sound of Happy Trails (1969) and Anthem of the Sun (1968), not to mention Eno's ambient records or PiL's Metal Box , is the destruction of or attack on the three-minute pop tune.

In Project: Mersh the Minutemen embrace the three-minute pop tune. The two first cuts "The Cheerleaders" and "King of the Hill" are both overtly political.

The third and last cut on the A-side is a cover of Steppenwolf's "Hey Lawdy Mama."

The Minutemen were always reaching back and covering bands like Creedence Clearwater Revival, Steppenwolf and Blue Öyster Cult -- politically-engaged rock bands from the Hippie era. (If you don't think Steppenwolf was political, listen to Steppenwolf Live (1970) again sometime.)

These bands provide a clue into who the Minutemen were emulating among the Hippies. In choosing "Hey Lawdy Mama," a sexist rant about coitus with groupies on the road, the band is poking fun at its flavor-of-the-month status as top of the heap left of the dial.

The B-side starts with "Take Our Test," before arriving at the best song of the EP, and the last great song the Minutemen produced, "Tour-Spiel," performed by bassist Mike Watt. (The final studio album, 3-Way Tie (For Last), released the same month as D. Boon's death, is not that good.)

I've been reading No Simple Highway: A Cultural History of the Grateful Dead by Peter Richardson. One thing Richardson makes plain is that the Dead were a continuation of the Beats, of Kerouac and Cassady and On the Road (1957). The Hippies and the Beats are organically connected. (We visited this subject before.)

If "Hey Lawdy Mama" is Steppenwolf's tribute to life on the road, and "Truckin'" is the Grateful Dead's, then I would say that the Hippies had lost their way as early as 1970. But with a song like "Tour-Spiel," a song about life on the road that is much truer to the Beats, I think we can say that Hardcore Punks had rediscovered Ground Zero:
Now you got your guitar
And your practice amp
You travel the USA in a van
And Troccoli's counting on some situation
Are you going to write the song I demand?
And with the guitar turned off
And the gas tank empty
And the typewriter on
But my head is empty
And to really find me
I've got to look inside me
From there the song segues into a five-minute acid rave, the last cut, "More Spiel," part of an emerging rave or neo-paisley psychedelic scene.

If you had to neatly encapsulate the message of the counterculture -- from Aldous Huxley's The Doors of Perception (1954) to the Beats, the Merry Pranksters and the Acid Tests and Trips Festival, including Easy Rider, on up to George Harrison's Dark Horse and Patti Smith's Horses, before arriving at Project: Mersh -- it's those two lines: "And to really find me/I've got to look inside me."

Google's Program of Political Censorship

UPDATE: World Socialist Web Site has a page devoted to Google censorship, on which there are a couple additions to Thursday's revelation about the impact of Google's recent blacklist algorithm.

This is a huge story. So far it appears that only Robert Parry of Consortium News is sounding off about it. Neither Yves Smith of Naked Capitalism nor Jeffrey St. Clair of CounterPunch, two vocal critics of the PropOrNot blacklist, have said anything.

The foundering neoliberal political establishment is pulling out the stops. What's next, midnight raids? It's too late though. The problem isn't bloggers or the masses. The problem is at the top of the pyramid.


A must-read is "New Google algorithm restricts access to left-wing, progressive web sites" by Andre Damon and Niles Niemuth:
In the three months since Internet monopoly Google announced plans to keep users from accessing “fake news,” the global traffic rankings of a broad range of left-wing, progressive, anti-war and democratic rights organizations have fallen significantly.
On April 25, 2017, Google announced that it had implemented changes to its search service to make it harder for users to access what it called “low-quality” information such as “conspiracy theories” and “fake news.”
The company said in a blog post that the central purpose of the change to its search algorithm was to give the search giant greater control in identifying content deemed objectionable by its guidelines. It declared that it had “improved our evaluation methods and made algorithmic updates” in order “to surface more authoritative content.”
Google continued, “Last month, we updated our Search Quality Rater Guidelines to provide more detailed examples of low-quality webpages for raters to appropriately flag.” These moderators are instructed to flag “upsetting user experiences,” including pages that present “conspiracy theories,” unless “the query clearly indicates the user is seeking an alternative viewpoint.”
Google does not explain precisely what it means by the term “conspiracy theory.” Using the broad and amorphous category of fake news, the aim of the change to Google’s search system is to restrict access to alternative web sites, whose coverage and interpretation of events conflict with those of such establishment media outlets as the New York Times and the Washington Post.
By flagging content in such a way that it does not appear in the first one or two pages of a search result, Google is able to effectively block users’ access to it. Given the fact that vast amounts of web traffic are influenced by search results, Google is able to effectively conceal or bury content to which it objects through the manipulation of search rankings.
Just last month, the European Commission fined the company $2.7 billion for manipulating search results to inappropriately direct users to its own comparison shopping service, Google Shopping. Now, it appears that Google is using these criminal methods to block users from accessing political viewpoints the company deems objectionable.
The World Socialist Web Site has been targeted by Google’s new “evaluation methods.” While in April 2017, 422,460 visits to the WSWS originated from Google searches, the figure has dropped to an estimated 120,000 this month, a fall of more than 70 percent.
Even when using search terms such as “socialist” and “socialism,” readers have informed us that they find it increasingly difficult to locate the World Socialist Web Site in Google searches.
It is no shock that Google is engaging in political censorship. Governments have put pressure on internet Goliaths Google and Facebook to blacklist non-mainstream news and commentary pages. WSWS provides the proof.

What is interesting is that Google is censoring webpages that are "low-quality" and/or espouse "conspiracy theories." According to Edward Curtain in "The Deep State, Now and Then,"
[A]s I wrote in January: the deep state has gone shallow. Fifty years ago the CIA coined the term “conspiracy theory” as a weapon to be used to dismiss the truths expressed by critics of its murder of President Kennedy, and those of Malcom X, MLK, and RFK. All the media echoed the CIA line. While they still use the term to dismiss and denounce, their control of the MSM is so complete today that every evil government action is immediately seconded, whether it be the lies about the Attacks of September 11, 2001, the wars against Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, etc., the coup in Ukraine, the downing of the Malaysian jetliner there, drone murders, the looting of the American people by the elites, alleged sarin gas attacks in Syria, the anti-Russia bashing – everything. The New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN, NPR, etc. – all are stenographers for the deep state.
Google's censorship is a much softer version of the Great Firewall of China. Websites are buried instead of being blocked outright. But the idea that the Occident is somehow ontologically more tolerant than the Orient should be dispensed with.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

"Skinny" Bill in "Critical Condition"

The "skinny" bill is proving to be an exercise in "squaring the circle"; in other words, an impossibility.

Enough senators are on record -- for instance, McCain and his buddy Lindsey Graham -- saying that they will only vote "Yes" on the "skinny" --  a bill that would repeal only those parts of the Affordable Care Act that mandate that individuals have health insurance and that large employers provide insurance to their employees -- if GOP House leadership guarantees a House-Senate conference to reconcile its bill with the Senate's.

McConnell is hoping to pass the "skinny" based on a promise of a conference, but it is becoming apparent that the GOP House leadership intends to take up the "skinny" as is and pass it as such, sending it on to Trump for a quick signature. R.I.P. Obamacare.

The insurance lobby has sniffed the skunk in the air and is now mobilizing to kill the "skinny."

If that were not enough of a headache for McConnell, he has to prove to the Senate parliamentarian that the "skinny" meets specific deficit reduction targets in order pass it with a simple majority; thereby avoiding the necessity of having to wrangle 60 votes. It is not clear how McConnell can do this.

All in all it looks like the "skinny" bill is in "critical condition."

One good thing is that it appears Medicaid is safe.

U.S. Sanctions Venezuela: A Triumph in Doublespeak

On the topic of sanctions (see Peter Baker's "Trump Administration Slaps Sanctions on Venezuela and Warns of More") let's not forget about the Western Hemisphere. Venezuela is of course on the list of official enemies, and the new sanctions, announced by Hollywood-producer-turned-U.S.-Treasury-Secretary Steven Mnuchin, are meant to "restore democracy" allegedly imperiled because of the convening of a constitutionally legitimate National Constituent Assembly:
“As President Trump has made clear, the United States will not ignore the Maduro regime’s ongoing efforts to undermine democracy, freedom and the rule of law,” Mr. Mnuchin said in a statement. “As our sanctions demonstrate, the United States is standing by the Venezuelan people in their quest to restore their country to a full and prosperous democracy.”
In a conference call with reporters, administration officials urged Mr. Maduro to cancel the Sunday assembly or face tougher actions. Among the possible options could be measures targeting oil sales. “Anyone elected to the National Constituent Assembly should know that their role in undermining democratic processes and institutions in Venezuela could expose them to potential U.S. sanctions,” Mr. Mnuchin added in his statement.
Orwellian doublespeak is not something alien to U.S. diplomacy, but criticizing elections to a constitutional convention as undermining democracy really takes chutzpah.

For a more fleshed out bit of propaganda, there is WaPo's "Venezuela’s vote for a constitutional assembly could destroy democracy, critics warn," by Anthony Faiola and Rachelle Krygier:
Maduro — the anointed successor of firebrand leader Hugo Chávez, who died in 2013 — strongly defends the new assembly, saying it will fortify what he hails as “the communal state.” While it’s unclear exactly what he is seeking in a new constitution, it would likely give more power to “communal councils” in poor neighborhoods. Leaders of those councils, critics say, are government loyalists who in practice would sideline elected politicians and win direct pipelines to government funds.
On the surface, the assembly vote, along with the government’s pseudo-Soviet speak, hark back to old-school Marxist regimes. But many here see something perhaps more sinister emerging — a 21st-century thugocracy that rules by coercion, extortion and violence.
Once the richest country per capita in South America due to its vast oil reserves, Venezuela was also cursed with vast disparities that kept an elite in luxury while the poor languished in slums. The result was Chávez, who used the petroleum wealth to launch massive social programs, even as he concentrated power. He remains much beloved by millions of Venezuelans, although many others — especially in the middle and upper classes — loathe him.
Maduro’s approval rating, on the other hand, is hovering around 20 percent, with opponents calling this weekend’s vote the only way for him to remain in the presidential palace.
He has promised Venezuelans that the assembly will herald a new era of security and stability. 
“July 30 will be the birth of a historic trigger of the homeland for a new phase of peace and advancement,” Maduro told a campaign rally this week.
Notice the "What's the big deal?" dismissal of using Venezuela's powerful oil economy to benefit the poor. This is pro forma in the prestige press, along with the blanket elision of the U.S.-backed 2002 coup that temporarily ousted Chavez from office.

It was the allegiance of the poor that saved Chavez's bacon, and Greg Grandin writes in "Down from the Mountain," it is the poor who are going to prevent Maduro's government from collapsing:
Marches and countermarches are usually a signal that history is on the move, that change, of some kind, is coming. But Venezuela is in stasis. Negotiations between the government and its opponents are announced, and then called off. The Vatican says it will mediate and the Organisation of American states says it will intervene, but nothing happens. Both sides, it seems, are waiting, tremulously, for the barrios populares,filled with working-class people, to render their verdict. Anti-government forces have called on them to join their protests, and have even encouraged them to loot and riot. These calls, for the most part, have gone unanswered. As the historian Alejandro Velasco has pointed out, Chávez acknowledged these people on a primal level, recognising them as citizens with legitimate demands and fundamental rights. In exchange, they turned out again and again on the streets and at the polls to defend the Bolivarian revolution. In contrast, anti-government forces want them as shock troops to break the deadlock. Maduro may have lost their goodwill, but social gains won in the heyday of Chavismo – schools, food distribution centres, health clinics, daycare – are still functioning, however stressed, in these neighbourhoods, and while their residents may not be actively supporting the government, they aren’t yet ready to overthrow it. Meanwhile Chávez, in death as in life, continues to transcend the polarisation. According to a recent poll, 79 per cent picked him as the best president the country has ever had. A slightly smaller but still large majority say he was Venezuela’s most democratic and efficient leader.
Clifford Krauss makes a lukewarm case today in "Wider U.S. Sanctions on Venezuela Risk Biting Both Countries" that the Maduro government can survive even if Trump targets the oil economy:
Venezuela now sells more than 700,000 barrels of oil a day to the United States, out of a total production of roughly two million barrels a day, or just over 2 percent of world production. Energy experts say Venezuela could eventually replace the American market, by exporting more heavy oil to China and India, though at a discount. And the 100,000 barrels a day of light oil it imports from the United States could be replaced by imports from Nigeria and Algeria.
Venezuela would have to move quickly. It faces big bond payments later this year, and its foreign reserves are dwindling.
“They have shown that they can get along, so I’m not sure suspending the purchasing of 700,000 barrels will crack the government,” said Luis E. Giusti, a former Pdvsa chief executive. “How much more things will deteriorate compared to what is happening now is a big question that doesn’t have a straightforward answer.”
The larger question, and a question that confronts me every day that I read The New York Times, is, "How many official enemies can the U.S. maintain?"

Right now -- in no particular order -- U.S. official enemies as identified in The New York Times include Russia, Iran, Cuba, Venezuela, China, the Duterte government of the Philippines, Erdogan's Turkey, and Lebanon's Hezbollah. I'll stop there. But if we were to include majorities currently not in office, we would have to mention the Taliban in Afghanistan and Corbyn's Labour in the U.K.

At least since the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011 it has been clear that U.S. foreign policy seeks the creation of failed states in lieu of detente or allegiance. That's why there is currently more displaced people than at any time since World War Two.

We'll see if the U.S. is truly done with the Salafis in Syria, or if a new war for Kurdistan can be avoided. But even if peace returns to the Levant, there is always Ukraine or the South China Sea or the Korean Peninsula or Venezuela. It's the "Rosy Future of War."

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Sanctions Bill Puts World on Notice That It's Not Only Trump Who is the Problem. It is the Entire U.S. Government.

UPDATE: Corker is now said to be fine with the House sanctions bill. From Matt Flegenheimer, "Key Senator Drops Objection, Clearing Way for Russia Sanctions":
“We expressed concerns about it,” Mr. Corker said of the addition of North Korea to the House plan, citing a desire for greater Senate input before placing new sanctions on the reclusive country. “They decided to add it. I don’t take affront.” 
Hours later, Mr. Corker said the Senate would move to approve the House version after all, but demanded that House leaders “expeditiously consider and pass enhancements to the North Korea language, which multiple members of the Senate hope to make in the very near future.” 
Some hurdles remain. Antonia Ferrier, a spokeswoman for Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, said it was not yet clear if the Senate would approve and send the bill to President Trump’s desk before lawmakers leave for the August recess.

There is a spat between Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy over the inclusion of North Korea in the House sanctions bill that appears to be holding the legislation up.

Assuming the sanctions bill eventually finds its way to Trump's desk, it is noteworthy that not one Democrat in the House voted "No." All three nays were from Republicans, which means all my donations and phone-banking for the "peace" candidate, who ended being elected to represent my congressional district, were for naught. Ambition trumps principle once again.

The sanctions bill codifies the New Cold War begun by the Obama administration in 2014. The silver lining is that the Democrats, so completely bellicose and Russophobic, will continue their accelerated collapse. Even The New York Times greeted their "Better Deal" reboot with derision. How can you front with Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi and expect otherwise?

The other silver lining is that Europe can no longer run away from the Trump bogeyman with the expectation that Obama's Second Coming is right around the bend. No, this is deeply-rooted institutional madness that is not going anywhere until something crashes or blows up.

The sanctions bill also moves the U.S. in a direction to undo the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) by targeting Iran's ballistic missile program. Iran's ballistic missile program was a sticking point during JCPOA negotiations, and it was purposely fudged by John Kerry so as not to kill the deal. (To get a look at the Israeli wish-list for U.S. policy toward Iran, read "Strategy to Restore U.S. Leverage Against Iran," by Eric Edelman and Charles Wald. It's basically war.)

The silver lining here is that the U.S. will be alone, except for the usual accomplices, Saudi Arabia, Israel, the United Arab Emirates, maybe Poland. The sanctions bill has put the world on notice that it's not only Trump who is the problem.It is the entire U.S. government.

"Skinny" Bill is GOP Plan 'X'

UPDATE: "Repeal Only" is dead. The senate vote was 45-55. The GOP "nays" included Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Susan Collins of Maine, Dean Heller of Nevada, John McCain of Arizona, Rob Portman of Ohio, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. The "skinny" bill is still alive. It could be that Republicans are only able to repeal the medical-device-tax portion of Obamacare, solely in order to have something to conference with the House and thereby make mischief another day.


The sanctions bill that cleared the House yesterday 419-3 did nothing to address European concerns over its impact on oil and gas projects like Nord Stream 2 and Blue Stream, Yves Smith writes this morning in "Are the Latest Russia Sanctions Really About Forcing US LNG on Europe?"

The Senate passed a procedural vote to open debate on repeal of the Affordable Care Act with a Pence tie-breaker, but later in the evening could only muster 43 votes for its version of Trumpcare. This bodes ill for GOP hopes to repeal Obamacare. But the new plan appears to be to pass a "skinny" bill, something like a repeal Obamacare's tax penalties on people who don't carry health insurance, and then deal with everything else during the House-Senate reconciliation process.

The news this morning of Trump attacking Lisa Murkowski on Twitter for her No vote on opening debate is a message to flip-flopper Shelley Moore Capito to hold the line and vote for repeal when the time comes.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Two Big Votes in Congress Today + The Demography of Tech Feudalism

Two big votes are scheduled in Congress today. In the Senate, repeal of Obamacare; in the House, sanctions on Russia, Iran and North Korea. The Senate vote is being criticized as a Star Chamber. No one knows what is being voted on other than a motion to begin debate. McConnell has to proceed under a cloak of darkness because enough senators have said that they will vote No on a motion to open debate if what is going to be proposed is repeal without a replacement.

The sanctions bill is being sold as a defense of Western democracy. According to David Sanger in "For Trump and Putin, Sanctions Are a Setback Both Sought to Avoid":
Last week at the Aspen Security Forum, four of his top intelligence and national security officials — including Mike Pompeo, the C.I.A. director — said they were absolutely convinced that the Russians were behind the effort to influence the election.
“There is no dissent,” Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, said on Friday at the Aspen conference. The Russians, he said, “caught us just a little bit asleep in terms of capabilities” the Kremlin could bring to bear to influence elections here, in France and Germany. The Russians’ goal was clear, he said: “They are trying to undermine Western democracy.”
The wording of the legislation agreed to by House and Senate conferees over the weekend indicates that many Republicans agree with the intelligence assessment: For the first time, it imposes penalties, though not very onerous ones, on anyone determined by the United States government to have participated in the election hacking.
But the latest from the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) argues that
Forensic studies of “Russian hacking” into Democratic National Committee computers last year reveal that on July 5, 2016, data was leaked (not hacked) by a person with physical access to DNC computers, and then doctored to incriminate Russia.
Though Sanger soft-peddles the impact of the sanctions bill, if Congress goes ahead with it, and Trump signs it, Europe is ready to retaliate. Apparently the Europeans feel that it weakens their energy sector. From Patrick Martin's "US sanctions bill against Russia set for passage with bipartisan support":
Besides opposition from the White House—largely behind closed doors—there has been public criticism by the European Union of at least one provision in the sanctions bill, which bars companies from doing deals with Russian partners where the Russian company owns more than a one-third interest in the venture. This could potentially threaten the Nord Stream II pipeline between Russia and Germany, financed by several Western companies but owned by Russia’s Gazprom.
Is Congress worse than Trump? When it comes to war and peace the answer appears to be "Yes." Outside of the U.K., I don't see much left of "Western Democracy" to undermine.

A foul opinion piece over the weekend by American Enterprise Institute president Arthur C. Brooks is a fine example of what the elite excel at -- blaming the victim. Brooks blames young people "for an increasing paranoia about taking big leaps" like starting a business or a family or moving out of town for a new job. He states the obvious, that there are economic reasons for this risk-averse behavior, but he doesn't let that stop him from lacing into youth for spinelessness:
Here’s what all this means: Our sin tends to be timidity, not rashness. On average, we say “no” too much when faced with an opportunity or dilemma.
Once you start looking for this imprudently risk-averse behavior, you see it everywhere, particularly among young people. According to data from the General Social Survey collected by NORC at the University of Chicago, people under age 30 today are almost a third less willing than under-30s in 1996 to relocate for their careers. And as the economist Tyler Cowen observes in his new book “The Complacent Class,” the fraction of people in this age group who own their own businesses has plummeted by about 65 percent since the 1980s.
Economic changes have contributed to both trends, to be sure. But there is another culprit: a diminishing frontier spirit and an increasing paranoia about taking big leaps.
Family formation, perhaps the ultimate personal leap of faith, looks to be another victim of this imprudent hesitation. Census Bureau demographers recently reported that while only a quarter of 24- to 29-year-olds were unmarried in the 1980s, almost half of that age group is unmarried today. And delaying the jump to adulthood has real social consequences. Last August, the Centers for Disease Control announced that the United States fertility rate had fallen to its lowest point since they began calculating it in 1909.
I think this is proof of the eminent rationality of young people, as well as the constricting, plutocratic spirit of our times. We are experiencing an age of tech feudalism. I fear it will only end when things fall apart. There are plenty of signs that the collapse is beginning.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Afghanistan is Past Its Tipping Point

UPDATE: This morning's Situation Report is chock full of bad news regarding Afghanistan:
Afghan grind fragmenting Trump’s cabinet. There’s little good news coming out of Afghanistan these days, and in Washington, the wheels keep turning on the long-awaited Trump strategy. But two national security officials told Politico’s Susan Glasser that a recent National Security Council Principals Committee meeting about Afghanistan descended into a “shitshow” of disagreements and complaints.
According to Glasser,
[T]he session of the National Security Council Principals Committee, described by two sources briefed on it as a “s*** show” that featured what a third source, a senior White House official, confirmed was a heated debate where “words were exchanged,” proved no more successful than months’ worth of previous Afghan policy debates.
Trump refused to sign off on the plan they approved, the sources said, instead sending it back to his national security team demanding more work. And on Tuesday, the president made clear just how dissatisfied he was. In what were pretty much his first public comments on Afghanistan during his six months in office, he told reporters before a White House lunch, “I want to find out why we’ve been there for 17 years.” On Thursday, headed into a Pentagon meeting, he was similarly cagey. Asked about more troops for Afghanistan, he replied only, “We’ll see.”
Trump’s equivocation reflects the difficulty of figuring out what to do about an unceasing war that is once again at an impasse without an influx of new troops. “We are not winning in Afghanistan,” Defense Secretary James Mattis testified last month.
But the president’s hesitation is also, according to multiple current and former senior U.S. officials I’ve spoken with in recent days, a striking vote of no-confidence in his national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, who has been trying and failing for months to sell the president on a new plan for Afghanistan.
McMaster has made a major policy review of America’s long, failed war there his personal mission, according to the sources, and he pushed hard to get a new strategy that would include the relatively modest troop increases and a commitment to at least another four-year timeline approved in advance of Trump’s May summit with NATO allies.

With ceasefires in effect in much of Syria and Mosul conquered, the most active war theater is likely Afghanistan. Mujib Mashal and Jawad Sukhanyar write in "Taliban Seize Two More Afghan Districts in Sustained Fighting" of ongoing battles in the country's south, north, east and west.
With the Taliban’s annual offensive in full swing, after the opium harvest and the fasting for the holy month of Ramadan, Afghan forces have been engaged with the Taliban in 21 of the country’s 34 provinces, according to the country’s minister of defense, Gen. Tariq Shah Bahrami. The frequency of attacks across several provinces in recent days and the casualty rate among the security forces, particularly the police and government militiamen, have raised alarms.
The uptick in violence comes as the Trump administration is considering sending a few thousand more troops, adding to the force of about 8,700 Americans already in the country to bolster the Afghan security forces.
In the meantime, the United States military has intensified airstrikes in support of the Afghan forces. In the first six months of 2017, American aircraft released more than 1,600 weapons, according to the United States Central Command, nearly 20 percent more than the number for all of 2016. In Helmand Province alone last week, American forces carried out an average of 10 strikes a day.
Even before the fall of the two recent districts, the insurgents controlled 11 districts from the country’s roughly 400 districts, and influenced another 34, according to United States military data released by the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction. In comparison, the Afghan government controlled 97 districts and influenced 146. More than 100 districts were contested by both sides.
My guess is that the above U.S. assessment is rose-colored. When was the last time you read about the Afghan government clearing districts of Taliban? If anything, the Taliban abandon territory because they have to attend to other matters. This doesn't mean that Afghan security forces, particularly the police, can hold turf, calling into question the "More than 100 districts were contested by both sides" sentence above. If these 100 districts are placed in the Taliban column, you have a country that's past the tipping point.

Kabul is not going to fall soon. But the terror bombings like the one Mujib Mashal reports this morning, "Taliban Claim Kabul Explosion That Killed Dozens," will continue to create chaos.

Mattis has been reticent about his plans for a troop deployment, a taciturnity that coincided with stories about Bannon and Kushner wanting to outsource the Taliban fight to mercenaries.

The U.S. mission in Afghanistan is at an end. The question is how long before an administration can muster the political courage to acknowledge reality. With a bellicose Congress like the one we have, it is going to be a while.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Post-Mortem on U.S. Covert War Against Syria

As the lamentations stream in following the public announcement that Trump has pulled the plug on the U.S. covert effort to topple the Syrian government, there is this surprisingly balanced post-mortem from Joshua Landis, "Terminating CIA Support for Syrian Rebels Sounds Death Knell for Western Attempt to Roll Back Iran and Russia in Syria," which appeared yesterday on his Syria Comment blog:
The end of Western support for Syria’s militant opposition has been clear since radicals began setting off bombs in European capitals.
Trump’s decision to stop support for Syrian rebels will be the final nail in the coffin of those factions which draw salaries from the CIA. They will be forced to pursue other careers.
More radical groups, such as those historically connected to al-Qaida and Ahrar al-Sham will also suffer from this decision. The radical militias prey on the weaker ones. They extort arms and money from the CIA-supported factions. The porous Syrian border with Turkey can now also be shut more tightly. The need to push resources to the CIA-vetted militias, kept border crossings open to all rebels, including al-Qaida. Factions merge and regroup with such regularity, that border guards could not know who was fighting for what end.
This is the last gasp for America’s policy of regime-change which has so compromised its efforts to promote democracy and human rights in a part of the world that needs both.
Landis, in language that portrays the CIA as a victim rather than as a perpetrator, acknowledges what could never be acknowledged in the mainstream media -- that the two principal Salafist, non-ISIS combatants were funded and armed by the U.S. government. As mea culpas go I guess it's better than nothing.

In the meantime, Trump shouldn't be lauded as a peace champion yet. The Pentagon is claiming territory in Syria's northeast in support of the Kurds. In the near term this is going to be more of a problem for Turkey than it is for Syria. Kurdish sovereignty is where the bouncing ball will fall next.

When I read the news yesterday I wondered "Whither Anne Barnard?" The New York Times Beirut bureau chief was such a stalwart advocate for the CIA Salafis, Skyping, texting, telephoning every heartbreaking jihadi thought and heroic deed, yet she hasn't been heard from in over a month, about the same time Trump's rollback of the CIA's covert war went into effect.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Who Killed Dag Hammarskjold? Probably the CIA

An interesting, well-written story from this past weekend that I missed until this morning is "Do Spy Agencies Hold Answer to Dag Hammarskjold’s Death? U.N. Wants to Know." Written by Alan Cowell and Rick Gladstone, the article tells the story of CIA, British Foreign Office and Belgian intelligence services foot-dragging when it comes to complying with information requests made by Mohamed Chande Othman, a former chief justice of Tanzania, who has been tasked by the General Assembly of the United Nations with reviewing all the evidence and assessing the need for further inquiry into the mysterious 1961 plane-crash death of Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold:
Mr. Othman declined to speak about the findings ahead of submitting the report. But senior United Nations officials and other associates of Mr. Othman said he had compiled detailed new questions about intercepted radio communications and other aircraft in the area as Mr. Hammarskjold’s plane went down eight miles from Ndola’s airfield — and that the answers may be found in the intelligence archives of the United States, Britain and Belgium.
“We know from available information that they know much more than what they’re saying,” said one of the senior United Nations officials, referring to the government keepers of those archives. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a confidential United Nations report.
One theory is that the DC-6 may have been attacked or harassed by a French-built Fouga Magister fighter jet operated by secessionist forces in the southern Congolese province of Katanga, who were resisting Mr. Hammarskjold’s efforts to end their rebellion.
Seven months before the crash, three Fouga Magisters had been delivered to the secessionists aboard an American-owned cargo plane that was supposed to be delivering food. President John F. Kennedy was deeply embarrassed by the delivery, which was later reported to have been a C.I.A. operation.
Whether a Fouga was in the Ndola area on the night of the crash remains unknown, despite earlier assurances to Mr. Othman from the C.I.A. that it had no records of a fighter jet’s presence there, a senior United Nations official said.
Mr. Othman has also put new questions to Britain and Belgium about the findings of their own intelligence services. Essentially, the senior United Nations official said, Mr. Othman had asked Western governments to carry out “more exhaustive searches and comprehensive searches” through their archives.
His inquiries also include questions about two American military intelligence officials at different listening posts on the night of the crash, one of whom has since died. Both claimed years later to have overheard radio intercepts that suggested the DC-6 had been shot down. Mr. Othman has also inquired about whether an official American DC-3 aircraft had been parked at the Ndola airfield that night.
To skeptics of the official accounts, the apparent reluctance by the big powers to share all they know with Mr. Othman is inexplicable, suggesting they are hoping for interest in the case to fade away.
David Wardrop, the chairman of the United Nations Association Westminster Branch, a group in London that has supported further inquiry into Mr. Hammarskjold’s death, said the responses by Britain and the United States appeared to show they had decided that “slothfulness is the best way to exhaust the U.N.’s process.”
States assassinate individuals. Is there any doubt? I am reminded of David Graeber's book The Utopia of Rules (2015). The state -- whether it's applying for a driver's license or attending grade school -- exists because of an ever-present promise of violence.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Deep State Moves to Delegitimize Saudi Crown Prince

This morning The New York Times has published a story, "Saudi King’s Son Plotted Effort to Oust His Rival," describing the removal of crown prince Mohammed bin Nayef (MBN) in favor of the youthful Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) not merely as a change in the line of succession to the throne of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia but as a coup:
Before midnight, Mohammed bin Nayef was told he was going to meet the king and was led into another room, where royal court officials took away his phones and pressured him to give up his posts as crown prince and interior minister, according to United States officials and an associate of the royal family.
At first, he refused. But as the night wore on, the prince, a diabetic who suffers from the effects of a 2009 assassination attempt by a suicide bomber, grew tired.
Meanwhile, royal court officials called members of the Allegiance Council, a body of princes who are supposed to approve changes to the line of succession. Some were told that Mohammed bin Nayef had a drug problem and was unfit to be king, according to an associate of the royal family.
One American official and one adviser to a Saudi royal said Mohammed bin Nayef opposed the embargo on Qatar, a stand that probably accelerated his ouster.
Sometime before dawn, Mohammed bin Nayef agreed to resign. A video shot afterward shows Mohammed bin Salman kissing his hand.
The extent of support for the elevation of Mohammed bin Salman in the family remains unclear. Saudi state news media reported that 31 of the 34 members of the Allegiance Council supported the change, but analysts said many royals are hesitant to vote against the king’s wishes.
Some United States officials and well-connected Saudis say there are rumblings of discontent, and analysts have pointed out hints.
Neither King Salman nor his son attended the Group of 20 summit meeting in Hamburg, Germany, even though one of the two men had attended each of the last three meetings. Analysts say that family disputes may have kept the men at home or that they did not want to face criticism for the isolation they and three other Arab states imposed on Qatar.
This story by the NYT is a shot across al-Saud's bow, a companion to WaPo's story Sunday that identified the United Arab Emirates as orchestrating the hack "of Qatari government news and social media sites in order to post incendiary false quotes attributed to Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad al-Thani, in late May that sparked the ongoing upheaval between Qatar and its neighbors, according to U.S. intelligence officials."

NYT's coup story coincides with the "Gang of Four" (KSA, UAE, Bahrain & Egypt) blinking in their standoff with Qatar. (See Rick Gladstone's "Countries That Broke Ties With Qatar Indicate Some Flexibility on Demands.")

Mohammed bin Salman is smart enough to know that he is being delegitimized in the prestige press by anonymous quotes from "U.S. intelligence officials." The prestige press is also starting to come out against MBS's war in Yemen. Opposition is developing in both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.

It can't come at a worse time for Saudi Arabia which is on the verge of an IPO for Saudi Aramco.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Amazon is the Deep State

Making a purchase on Amazon has become as American as apple pie (and drone assassinations). This morning Niqnaq posts part one, "Amazon cashes in on war crimes and mass surveillance," of a two-part story, "Amazon and the CIA: a match made in hell," by WSWS's Evan Blake:
In recent years, the multinational corporation Amazon has risen to become the preeminent online retail giant and the fourth most valuable company in the world. One of Amazon’s most significant business contracts, which has largely been kept hidden from the public since it was finalized in October 2013, was a $600 million deal for Amazon Web Services (AWS) to build a private computing cloud for the 17 American intelligence agencies known collectively as the “intelligence community” (IC).
The deal initiated Amazon’s ever-deepening integration with the American state, and implicates the company in the international war crimes, mass spying and repressive operations carried out by the spy agencies of American imperialism. Similar to the Krupp company, which supplied arms to the German military during World Wars I and II, Amazon today provides the technological scaffolding for the wars waged by American imperialism.
The sharing of data—facilitated by Amazon—enables scenarios to take place where the CIA, NSA, NGA and the Air Force collaborate to identify, precisely locate and carry out the drone assassination of anyone deemed to be a “terrorist,” including American citizens. Thanks to Amazon, the spy agencies can now more seamlessly conspire to carry out bloody military campaigns, such as the military assault on Mosul, or secretly orchestrate the Saudi-led war against Yemen. They are no doubt using such technology to simulate and prepare for the long-planned wars against North Korea, Iran, China and Russia, which threaten to coalesce into a new, catastrophic World War between nuclear-armed powers.
In mid-2012, the CIA began conducting negotiations with AWS, IBM and an unnamed third corporation to decide which company would win the 10-year, highly lucrative contract to create the private cloud for the IC, which had to be capable of analyzing 100 terabytes of raw data at a time, an immense figure.
In February 2013, the CIA secretly selected Amazon as the winning bidder. IBM filed a bid protest, claiming they had offered a lower price than Amazon, but in October 2013, the US Court of Federal Claims sided with Amazon, which then began to build the C2S cloud infrastructure. The cloud became operational in the summer of 2014, with then-CIA chief information officer Doug Wolfe praising it as “one of the most important technology procurements in recent history.”
Last month, current CIA CIO John Edwards declared in a speech at AWS’ Public Sector Summit, “It’s the best decision we’ve ever made... It’s the most innovative thing we’ve ever done... It is having a material impact on both the CIA and the IC.”
There were a number of factors that led the CIA to partner with Amazon, one of which was their ability to save money in the long-term. While $600 million is an enormous sum, at that point the IC was spending upwards of $8 billion annually to store and analyze the billions of pieces of metadata, phone and internet records, and other information that it was collecting en masse on its self-built servers, as noted in documents leaked by Edward Snowden.
Amazon’s cloud-based server offered a means to significantly reduce these costs, as it had a unique ability to scale up or down to meet the storage, computing and analytics needs of the IC at a given time. Amazon would also incorporate any innovations or improvements devised by their engineers, which happen on an almost daily basis, directly into the C2S cloud.
The genius of U.S. corporate capitalism is the manner in which it compromises us all. We bank with one of the too-big-to-fail giants; we use their credit cards; we shop on Amazon. Not really a prescription for the attainment of critical consciousness.

So while the sagacious Samir Amin predicts a collapse of the neoliberal world order, and I tend to agree, the counterpoint is that the neoliberal world order, "the End of History," will continue to motor along because, since we are all so complicit in its maintenance, there is truly no alternative.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Neoliberal Elite Believe They are Immune to Sixth Mass Exinction Underway

There is a zombie-like quality that distinguishes the U.S. deep state. Two stories over the weekend illustrate this stumbling, brain-dead behemoth. Mujib Mashal's "Back in Afghan Hot Spot, U.S. Marines Chase Diminished Goals" describes preparations by the Marines to re-invade Helmand Province, "The Marines are simply trying to keep Lashkar Gah from falling to the Taliban, and to help the Afghan forces come out of their barracks and put up a fight." Tim Arango's "Iran Dominates in Iraq After U.S. ‘Handed the Country Over’" is a tendentious brief for a re-invasion of Iraq to cleanse the country of Iranian control.

How long can it go on? That's the question. Monthly Review's July-August issue is devoted to the 100-year anniversary of the Russian Revolution. The essays I have read are all quite good. Samir Amin's "Revolution from North to South" is the last one; and in his last paragraph, he has this to say:
In conclusion, I will again point out that the system of neoliberal globalization has entered its last phase; its implosion is clearly visible, as indicated by, among other things, Brexit, Trump's election, and the rise of various forms of neofascism.
From the land of Brexit, William Davies, writing in the London Review of Books, "Reasons for Corbyn," explains why the young have turned their back on neoliberalism. Despite its clearly visible implosion, the elite show no signs of changing course:
Reacting to the breakdown of the vote on 8 June, business leaders and conservative commentators have expressed their disquiet at the fact that young people are so enthusiastic about an apparently retrograde left-wing programme. ‘Memo to anyone under 45,’ Digby Jones, the former director general of the CBI, tweeted: ‘You can’t remember last time socialists got control of the cookie jar: everything nationalised & nothing worked.’ To which the rebuke might be made: and you don’t remember how good things were compared to today. Speak to my undergraduate students (many of them born during Blair’s first term) about the 1970s and early 1980s, and you’ll see the wistful look on their faces as they imagine a society in which artists, writers and recent graduates could live independently in Central London, unharassed by student loan companies, workfare contractors or debt collectors. This may be a partial historical view, but it responds to what younger generations are currently cheated of: the opportunity to grow into adulthood without having their entire future mapped out as a financial strategy. A leader who can build a bridge to that past offers the hope of a different future.
I have come to believe that this elite inability to make a course correction is not based on ignorance. For instance, last week there was a story by Tatiana Schlossberg "Era of ‘Biological Annihilation’ Is Underway, Scientists Warn":
From the common barn swallow to the exotic giraffe, thousands of animal species are in precipitous decline, a sign that an irreversible era of mass extinction is underway, new research finds.
The study, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, calls the current decline in animal populations a “global epidemic” and part of the “ongoing sixth mass extinction” caused in large measure by human destruction of animal habitats. The previous five extinctions were caused by natural phenomena.
Gerardo Ceballos, a researcher at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México in Mexico City, acknowledged that the study is written in unusually alarming tones for an academic research paper. “It wouldn’t be ethical right now not to speak in this strong language to call attention to the severity of the problem,” he said.
The elite know this. My sense is that the inability to make a course correction is intentional. The elite believe they will be able to survive the sixth mass extinction underway. If asked the old question "Socialism or barbarism?" the elite are answering, "Barbarism!" out of a hubris that they can wire the barbaric life much as they have capitalist mass consumer society.

I believe what is happening here is that the elite are consciously if not articulately rejecting mass society in the mistaken belief that they will be able to jet to a sylvan glade somewhere post-apocalypse.

Friday, July 14, 2017

The Moral Bankruptcy of the United States

I called my congresswoman yesterday. She is a freshman. I donated to her campaign and phone-banked for her. I figured that since she started up a non-profit called "Hate Free Zone" in the wake of 9/11 that she, once in office, would be a reliable peace advocate.

To be honest, the only thing I can tell you about her service in Congress so far is that she has been snatched up as eye-candy by House Democratic Leadership. Here she is fronting for neo-McCarthyism:

In any event, yesterday I received this email from Just Foreign Policy:
Last night the House Rules Committee approved two amendments for votes today that fundamentally challenge U.S. participation in the Saudi war in Yemen. 
The Davidson [R-OH] amendment prohibits U.S. military action not authorized by the 2001 AUMF. U.S. participation in the Saudi war in Yemen is not authorized by the 2001 AUMF. That would block the U.S. refueling of Saudi warplanes bombing Yemen. 
The Nolan [D-MN] amendment prohibits the deployment of U.S. troops to participation in Yemen's civil war. That would block the U.S. refueling of Saudi warplanes bombing Yemen. 
This devastating war, which was never authorized by Congress, has been going on for more than two years and has pushed Yemen to the brink of famine, with the worst cholera outbreak in the world, with the UN on the verge of giving up on vaccination against cholera in Yemen because of the war. 
We've never had votes like this before in either chamber. We have no idea how it will go. Every Rep. needs to be called, whether they are Democrat or Republican, pro-Trump or anti-Trump. 
Call your Rep. now at (202) 224-3121. When you reach a staffer or leave a message, you can say something like: 
"I urge you to vote YES on the Davidson and Nolan amendments to prohibit U.S. participation in the unauthorized Saudi war in Yemen."
So I called the local office of my congresswoman (not the D.C. office because I was at work and didn't want the local to absorb the long-distance charge).

A pleasant young woman answered the phone and tried to find the bill number. I hadn't read the Just Foreign Policy email closely enough to tell her H.R. 2810. She assured my she would get the message to the congresswoman.

Two stories yesterday reinforce 1) that the U.S. is directly complicit in war crimes in Yemen, and 2) the cholera epidemic there is at the point of "spiralling out of control."


This morning's Situation Report condenses the story as follows:
US doubles down on support for war in Yemen. Since an October airstrike in Yemen by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition that killed more than 130 people, “the United States doubled the amount of fuel it provided to coalition jets, according to figures obtained from the U.S. military,” writes Samuel Oakford in The Intercept. “The numbers underline the fact that U.S. support for the campaign has continued and even increased despite growing attention to civilian casualties and alleged war crimes by the coalition.”
For the second, see The Guardian's " 'Cholera is everywhere': Yemen epidemic spiralling out of control":
The International Committee of the Red Cross warned on Monday that the cholera epidemic in Yemen was spiralling out of control, reaching a milestone of over 300,000 suspected cases. More than 1,600 people have died. Children account for nearly half of all suspected cholera cases in the country, according to the UN’s children agency.
This is where the lack of an anti-war movement or a strong peace caucus in the Democratic Party becomes glaringly obvious. At a previous time, the U.S. facilitation of a cholera epidemic would be the subject of mass outrage.

The fact that it isn't has many roots: complicity with al-Saud's genocidal war started with the Peace Prize POTUS; there are too many wars for the general public to track; and the New Cold War provides a thick smokescreen for all manner of abhorrent behavior. They all point to a moral bankruptcy.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Democrat Elites Still in Bernie Denial + Kid Rock a U.S. Senator?

What is a "hipster"? A good definition is "a bourgeois bohemian," someone who is safely, superficially, predictably unconventional; someone, like a medieval courtier, who adheres to certain shifting protocols. Hipsters are usually fickle, bitter and filled with fear.

A "faux-hipster" then is someone who affects the coolness of a hipster but with the intention of buttressing the mainstream, the conventional, the "square" world. A faux-hipster is the serpent eating its tail, Ol' Blue Eyes backing Reagan.

MSNBC has built its brand on the faux-hipster, and FiveThirtyEight, Nate Silver's ESPN project, has followed along, leaning on the nerdy, geeky, wonky aspects of the millennial hipster.

Recently a Bernie Sanders presidential run in 2020 has received some attention. Last week Vox's Matt Yglesias argued that "Bernie Sanders is the Democrats’ real 2020 frontrunner." Yesterday Common Dreams published "It's Too Early, Says Bernie Sanders, But 2020 Run 'Not Off The Table' "

And this morning FiveThirtyEight has a delightful chat, "Is Bernie Sanders Really The Democratic Front-Runner?," I think it is a must-read because it shows how lost the Democratic elite are. Nate Silver is attacked by his three colleagues for arguing the obvious -- Bernie is the front-runner. Take a taste:
harry: If you’re going to use Sanders’s prior support, then why is he polling at less than half of what he got in 2016? Doesn’t that suggest that a lot of that support was merely anti-Clinton and not pro-Bernie?
natesilver: Because they’re polling a ballot with 14 candidates, whereas it was a two-horse race in 2016. I dare you to look up Sanders’s favorability ratings with Democrats, Harry!
harry: I dare you to look up Trump’s favorability ratings with Republicans even after he entered.
clare.malone: Cool impasse.
natesilver: I’m not sure why you’re being such a hipster about this, Harry. Sanders is really well liked among Democrats. He was second last time. He’s leading in the polls now. Isn’t it obvious that he’s the front-runner?
If you read through the round table a couple of things rise to the top. Democratic elite opinion, here represented by FiveThirtyEight writers Harry Enten, Clare Malone and Perry Bacon Jr., is waiting, pining, begging for Elizabeth Warren to get into the presidential race. (Warren is better than Hillary, but I think the outcome would be the same because she can't juice turnout of the "Obama coalition" -- minorities and young people.) Bernie's candidacy is once again being written off because he allegedly doesn't have the support of black voters. So we can expect more and possibly worse race-baiting in 2020. It's going to be the Super Tuesday firewall all over again. Divide and conquer. And if Bernie is blocked, another Trumpocalypse.

For a real hipster take on potential candidacies there is yesterday's Slog from Charles Mudede, "Hick Hopper Kid Rock Running for Senate," about Kid Rock challenging Debbie Stabenow in Michigan:
This afternoon, "rapper," scratcher, and country singer Kid Rock tweeted that recently launched website Kid Rock For Senate is the real deal. In 2018, he will run against the Democrat Debbie Stabenow, Michigan's senior US Senator. In 2012, Kid Rock supported Mitt Romney, and his song "Born Free" was Romney's campaign theme. In 2016, Rock supported Donald Trump's successful run. In 2017, he visited the White House with Sarah Palin and Ted Nugent, and famously mocked Hillary Clinton's official portrait. 
The album that made Kid Rock Kid Rock (his real name is Robert Ritchie) is Devil Without a Cause. It was released in 1998, sold a gazillion copies, and introduced the world to "hick hop." Rock is not much of a rapper, indeed he's what we once called wack; but he can work the wheels of steel like an old school DJ. In this video, you can see him light up and smoke a cigar, and pour whisky in to a glass while cutting records down to the bone.
Rock also appeared on a sex tape with Creed's Scott Stapp. In this video, which was filmed in 1999 and entered the eternity of the internet in 2006, his cock is sucked by more than one woman. Recently, Rock's glass dildo was "subpoenaed in Insane Clown Posse lawsuit."
All of that said, Rock has not yet filed for the senate race. But if he does, if he actually runs, Stranger news editor Steven Hsieh thinks he will win. 
Now that's some fine hipster writing.