Thursday, August 31, 2017

Hippies vs. Punks: Gregg Allman's Laid Back (1973)

Gregg Allman died at the end of May. I have been meaning to say something about his first solo album, Laid Back (1973), a gold record that reached high up the charts in both Canada and United States. I have listened to Laid Back off and on my whole life: first as a child -- it was a staple of my parents' record collection in the 1970s -- and then as an adult -- it provided a musical accompaniment to my meager peregrinations as a bachelor.

Laid Back beautifully documents the Hippie Weltanschauung during the Watergate era. The counterculture revolution had failed to overturn the established political order, but it had successfully produced a massified bohemia. Nixon won an historic landslide in 1972, but by October of 1973, when Laid Back was released, he was desperately trying to keep hold of his presidency after the Saturday Night Massacre.

It is this combination of cooling New Left revolutionary fervor (how many got sucked in by McGovern?) with an enormous political crisis of the major parties, plus a massified bohemia, that creates a truly unique period. There was an absolute confidence that the old way of doing things was done, yet there was no urgency to come up with a new scheme. The horizon wasn't blasted wide open by brilliant psychedelic sunshine, as it had been at the end of the 1960s, but it was roomy and familiar. There appeared to be no impediments to free movement. So instead of more fussing and fighting and erecting of new worlds, why not just kick back on the couch or putter around the yard? Why not just be laid back?

The other night I happened to see the opening of Lindsay Anderson's classic film from 1973, O Lucky Man! Alan Price, like Gregg Allman, a keyboard player (he founded the Animals), captures the post-failed-revolutionary chic of the Watergate era.

The Watergate era ends with Jimmy Carter's election. (That's why The Last Waltz, filmed on Thanksgiving 1976 and released the spring of 1978, is an essential document because it captures the cultural exit of the Hippie; it also corresponds with the rise and fall of first wave Punk.)

The Watergate era I would mark as beginning in the spring of 1973, when the Senate Watergate Committee got cooking, until the summer of 1976 and the hurricane of propaganda unleashed by the U.S. Bicentennial. A little over three years.

I remember the period fondly because it was the last time my family was together under one roof. We lived in a large Victorian house in a town at the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains. There was a carriage house and spacious grounds filled with frog ponds and old trees.

I remember intently studying the Laid Back cover art of Mati Klarwein. I remember taking a trip to the hardware store with my father on a Saturday afternoon as "Midnight Rider" played on the car radio, a long-haired, long-bearded Hippie standing in a front yard next to a tire swing as we drove by.

Assessing a Third-Party Challenge: Four More Years of MAGA

Yesterday FiveThirtyEight published a round-table chat devoted to the possibilities of a third party in the 2020 U.S. presidential election, "Can A Third-Party Ticket Win In 2020? Maybe — but it probably won’t be Kasichlooper." ("Kasichlooper" is a Nate Silver neologism referring to a John Kasich-John Hickenlooper prseidential ticket.)

The conversation was disappointingly superficial. There was no discussion of the sky-high hurdles that exist to ballot access for third parties and independents; no meaningful probing of the impacts that third parties have had on the history of the United States; nor was there even a single mention of the super-historic third-way triumph this year in France when Emmanuel Macron walloped the chauvinist Marine Le Pen in the presidential election and then soon after his brand-new political party, En Marche!, swept parliamentary elections.

The end result of the FiveThirtyEight talk was the mocking, puerile conclusion that only a celebrity candidate like Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson could mount a significant challenge to the major parties in 2020.

This doesn't mean that FiveThirtyEight round table failed to illuminate. One of Silver's interlocutors, senior writer Perry Bacon Jr., opined that
. . . Kasich/Hickenlooper is the kind of unity ticket that people in the Beltway and the media (like me) tend to think is appealing to voters: moderate in tone, more economically conservative and socially liberal. I think there isn’t any evidence that voters want this kind of ticket and there is a lot of evidence (the rise of Sanders and Trump) that voters don’t want this kind of candidate. I do think a third-party candidate can do well. I really do. But I suspect it’s more of an outsider/celebrity than a bunch of old pols who are somehow trying to split the difference between the two existing parties.
What Bacon doesn't acknowledge is that the entire U.S. political system is based on not giving the voters what they want. The FiveThirtyEight writers dismiss a Bloomberg candidacy because he is a cosmopolitan billionaire (who cares about gun control and climate change) without mentioning that he was ready to pull the trigger in 2016 if Hillary's Southern firewall was breached by Bernie on Super Tuesday. It wasn't. So Bloomberg didn't mount a third-party challenge.

The important takeaway is that Mike Bloomberg was ready to spend profligately from his personal fortune and launch a kamikaze third-party attack on the two-party system if a non-neoliberal took control of the Democrats. Bloomberg didn't throw down the gauntlet when Trump remarkably captured Bloomberg's Republican Party.

So the entire frame of the FiveThirtyEight chat -- that a third party will arise in 2020 because of Trump on the basis that 1) Trump himself is blocked from the GOP nomination and decides to run under an independent "MAGA" banner, or 2) that a "moderate" Republican like Kasich will stray from the GOP rez in search of suburban soccer moms -- is ass backwards.

The correct lens for a third-party challenge in 2020 is if Bernie Sanders, who will be 79 in three years, looks like he is going to win the Democratic nomination. Then we will see a billionaire-sponsored third-party candidacy emerge. It could be a corporate chief like Howard Schultz or a celebrity wax dummy like The Rock.

France proves that a zombie neoliberalism can still dominate the polls, and with tantalizing results for the plutocrats. The correct variables are required: a baleful xenophobe on the right; a social-democratic uprising on the left; a shocked, terrorized electorate.

Make no mistake. A U.S. Macron is a distinct possibility in 2020 (maybe even a female iteration). But s/he wouldn't win. S/he would merely guarantee that a social democrat wouldn't win.

Which means four more years of MAGA.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Where Monsters Dwell #13

Where Monsters Dwell #13, with a publication date of January 1972, reprints the cover story, "I Dared to Battle the Crawling Creature," which first appeared in Tales to Astonish #22 (August 1961). Gil Kane provided the cover for the reprint, making the nerdy high-school hero of the story distinctly early-'70s hip. The original cover maintains the boyishness of the protagonist.

"I Dared to Battle the Crawling Creature" is yet another Lee-Kirby monster story, Marvel's staple before its superhero books took off (Fantastic Four #1 was published a few months later). 

As we've explored in the past, these Lee-Kirby monster stories were usually metaphors for the Cold War. An extraterrestrial or subterranean behemoth bent on world domination threatens the safety of a homogeneous, guileless society but is ultimately foiled by the pluck and quick-thinking of an average American (usually a teenager).

What is absent from "I Dared to Battle the Crawling Creature" is any hint of world domination, other than the drilling machine that the government is testing to plumb the Earth's unexplored depths. Everything else is much the same. 

A belittled --"Walter Carter -- the only joker in school who can't catch a football!" -- book-reading high-school student signs up to be a subject in a government experiment that sends a boring machine deep underground. 

Once Walter's capsule comes to a stop "dozens of miles" below the surface, he discovers a strangely luminescent world of cavemen who live in fear of a huge reptile, "the Crawling Creature." 

The Crawling Creature follows Walter back up the bore hole, which happens to be near the Grand Canyon; Walter lures the monster over the canyon's edge, and then he is rescued by a passing helicopter dangling a rope ladder. (Kirby has used the rope ladder dropped from a helicopter more than once.)

Both Marvel and DC are celebrating the centennial of Jack Kirby's birth this month. DC's effort has been much more noticeable on the shelves of my local comic shop, which is strange given that Marvel is synonymous with Kirby. Just as there would be no Marvel without Stan Lee, there would be no Marvel without Jack Kirby.

I asserted last week that the NFL is the only thing that constitutes a U.S. national cultural nowadays. I should amend that to include the big comic-book publishers, Marvel and DC, as well as Hollywood.

Jack Kirby's characters -- Black Panther, Captain America, Silver Surfer, the Inhumans, the X-Men, et al. -- have more impact on the youth of the nation than a diminishing Christianity. It is far more common to walk down the street and see someone wearing a Captain America shield t-shirt than almost any other non-sports logo.

Before Marvel's superhero revolution of the 1960s were its monster stories. It is interesting that now Marvel (and DC) superheroes are really all that keep us from realizing our monstrosity.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

North Korea and Iran

With North Korea sending a ballistic missile over Hokkaido, Trump has opted for the tried and true “all options are on the table” over the incendiary rhetoric he used earlier this month.

North Korea continues to launch test missiles in response to ongoing U.S.-South Korean war games. The U.S. mainstream media downplays the importance of the war games, usually burying them far down in any story about the North Korean missile tests. Most stories emphasize the irrational, aggressive nature of North Korean leadership, when in fact it is the United States that continually acts in an aggressive and contradictory fashion.

This will be on full display shortly when Trump attempts to scuttle the Iranian nuclear accord. The IAEA is set to report that Iran is in compliance with the agreement. The Trump administration is casting about for a way to end the deal without risking international isolation for the United States. The Israelis have floated the idea of de-certification without withdrawal. The Iranians will likely not be bated. Europe will honor the agreement. With trade restricted with Russia thanks to the U.S.-launched New Cold War, economic expansion in Persia looks particularly appetizing to Berlin and Paris.

There is linkage between North Korea and Iran as Gardiner Harris reported yesterday in "If Report Says Iran Is Abiding by Nuclear Deal, Will Trump Heed It?":
[Senator Richard J. Durbin, an Illinois Democrat] said that scrapping the deal without any evidence that Iran was seriously violating its terms would damage American credibility around the world and all but guarantee that North Korea would refuse to undergo a similar set of negotiations to end its own nuclear program, now Mr. Tillerson’s top goal.
“If the president voids this without any evidence of a breach, it calls into question the credibility of the United States not just on Iran but North Korea and everything else,” Mr. Durbin said. “That cannot be in the interests of the United States.”
American credibility is already mortally wounded.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Trump's Poll Numbers Should Continue to Decline

Last week Nate Silver's "7 Rules For Reading Trump’s Approval Rating" established some helpful guidelines for looking at Trump's poll numbers post-Charlottesville and with Congress soon to return from its August recess and begin budget negotiations.

Silver didn't see any big dip in support for Trump due to his pro-fascist comments following Charlottesville, but that doesn't mean that Trump is holding steady. Silver argues that Trump is losing a percentage point a month, and Trump's rock bottom is somewhere in the mid-to-low-20s:
But let’s not lose sight of the big picture. Despite the relatively small shift after Charlottesville, the overall trend in Trump’s numbers so far has been toward decline. In fact, a simple linear trend line captures most of the variation in his approval ratings so far and implies that his approval ratings are dropping slightly more than 1 percentage point per month. If Trump were to continue losing ground at this rate — though he probably won’t (see below) — it would be truly catastrophic for him, as his numbers would fall into the low 20s by midterms.
Silver identifies an underlying seesaw to Trump's polling numbers. Approval tends to decline over a president's term, but it also tends to revert to the mean; this helps explain why the dam has never really broken on Trump:
And while there are a couple rules of thumb for how presidential approval ratings behave over the long run, they’re contradictory in Trump’s case. On the one hand, approval ratings tend to decline over the course of a president’s term, which would predict a further decrease for Trump. On the other hand — in part because of partisanship — approval ratings are mean-reverting, meaning that they tend to rise when they’re lower than roughly 40 percent and to decline when they’re above 50 percent, which would tend to produce an increase since Trump’s ratings are below 40 percent now.
So far, the first rule — a president’s rating tends to get worse during his term — has usually won out for Trump, and his approval rating has continued to decline. But the first rule won’t necessarily keep winning the tug-of-war with the second rule. Partisan gravity could pull Trump’s numbers back into the low 40s if he has a couple of relatively calm weeks or months — as he did this April, for example. Or an issue that Americans aren’t thinking about very much now — say, a military confrontation with North Korea — could be pivotal in the 2018 and 2020 elections. The best news for Trump is that there’s a long way to go before voters go to the polls again.
Trump could get a bump if it turns out that his handling of Hurricane Harvey wasn't completely inept. I think the bar is low here because of the chaos unleashed by 2005's Hurricane Katrina. If Harvey's damage is less, which it appears to be, and Trump's response is less callous than Bush's, then he comes away unscathed.

On the other hand, the Arpaio pardon is not going to be a winner for Trump. It reveals that Trump is completely dependent upon the Bannon formula -- motivating the hard-shell Tea Party types -- to cling to power. The only way this strategy continues to be a winner is if the Democrats remain completely deplorable. Right now, though there is some indication that leadership is beginning to figure things out, that seems a good bet.

Big trouble awaits Trump when Congress begins work on the budget. Trump has threatened a government shutdown unless funds for the border wall are appropriated. The Freedom Caucus is going to want big cuts in social and regulatory programs.

Another enormous problem for Trump is that by now it should be apparent to all the "America First" libertarians who voted for him that perpetual war has not been pared back; it is expanding.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Protest Spreads in the NFL

With two preseason games left to be played, the jumbo jet that is the National Football League regular season is taxiing on the runway. The NFL is all that is left of national culture in the United States; it is the only thing you can talk about with just about anyone in any American city; it is the paste, however thin, that sticks Americans together; it also remains the foundation of broadcast television.

That's why last year an unexpected significant loss of viewers at the beginning of the season caused wails of lamentation in corporate boardrooms across the country. The unspoken fear was that if interest in the NFL disintegrated then capitalism itself couldn't be far behind.

Many explanations for the ratings drop were floated -- the presidential election, the splintering of consciousness due to smartphones, and, my choice, for the first time in years (decades?) most of the games were plain old lousy -- before the plutocrats who guide the NFL settled on ailing San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick as the scapegoat.

Kaepernick started kneeling last year during the national anthem to protest institutional racism and show support for Black Lives Matter. His protest was picked up by players throughout the league before petering out by November. Viewership had started to pick back up by then. So the NFL, in a fit of "magical thinking," conveniently tarred Kaepernick and his un-American protest the root cause of the problem.

Since then Kaepenick has severed his relationship with the 49ers. A big story of the off-season was his inability to secure employment. A blacklist was obviously at work. Talk to any fan -- even if s/he dislikes Kaepernick --and s/he will tell you the same thing: He is good enough to start for most teams. The Denver Broncos could likely return to the Super Bowl with Kap at QB. If a wheeler-dealer like Broncos GM John Elway passed on Kaepernick the only meaningful explanation is that the league is enforcing a blacklist.

The problem for the NFL, as Ken Belson explored the other day in "Kaepernick’s Protest Cascades Into Protests Over His Job Situation," is that, post-Charlottesville, Kaepernick's protest of last season has reappeared this preseason and it is broader and better organized among the players:
On Monday, in the largest on-field demonstration yet, a dozen Cleveland Browns players knelt during the national anthem, while several other players stood next to them in solidarity. In contrast to last season, when Kaepernick and a handful of black players refused to stand during the anthem, the group included white players.
Goodell has insisted that the league’s 32 teams are not banning Kaepernick. But the issue has put Goodell in the awkward position of defending owners and coaches who have twisted themselves in knots defending their decision not to sign Kaepernick, a quarterback who, unlike the two dozen or so who have been signed so far this year, has led a team to a Super Bowl.
From Baltimore to Miami to Seattle, teams in need of starting or backup quarterbacks signed players with either little experience or a mixed track record, and had to explain, often awkwardly, why they had passed over Kaepernick, who opted out of his contract with the 49ers in March. The Dolphins even coaxed Jay Cutler out of retirement.
Kaepernick and the anthem-kneeling dispute that he inspired are just the latest in a series of headaches for Goodell and the N.F.L., which is in the spotlight again for its handling of players who are accused of domestic violence, for its handling of concussions and for its harsh stand against the use of marijuana, which some players contend is a safer alternative to the highly addictive painkillers that teams dispense.
The continuing debate over whether players should or should not stand for the national anthem, though, is perhaps the most explosive issue facing the N.F.L., which celebrates patriotism and military service like no other league. The anthem-kneeling that Kaepernick inspired has divided fans like few other issues and has shown signs of chipping away at the league’s bottom line.
Television ratings at every one of the league’s network partners fell last year for the first time, and while the reasons for the decline are complicated — including the presidential election and the absence of recognizable stars like Peyton Manning — some fans said they had stopped watching the N.F.L. because Kaepernick and other players knelt during the anthem.
As the controversy continues into its second year, more fans who look to sports for a diversion from politics could turn away as the season progresses.
I think the idea that TVs were turned off because a barely visible player or two took a knee or raised a fist during the national anthem is pure bullshit; to believe that, you are basically making a ultra-nationalist political statement.

The reality is that the games were no good; that, and people are gradually abandoning broadcast television.

Who knows why the early season match-ups were so poor.  If teams figure out new offensive schemes this year, or Marshawn Lynch has a big comeback with the Raiders, or any of a dozen captivating storylines, people will tune in. The NFL remains the most powerful opiate in our opioid nation.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Trump Puts Charlottesville Behind Him: Phoenix was an Enormous Wasted Opportunity

Phoenix has to be chalked up as a win for Trump. Looking at stories in The New York Times and RT, both filled with video, the crowds outside the convention center looked thin. Simon Romero of The Times said thousands; RT, hundreds. Did the police fire away with tear gas? No doubt. But there is also no doubt that a serious #resist organizing campaign was absent.

This is troubling because it means that actual resistance to Trump is local, like Charlottesville, and not national. What is national, like MoveOn's "Resistance Recess" and "Resistance Summer," is aimed at pressuring Congress. Would the Voting Rights Act of 1965 passed with such a campaign? No, you needed the "Bloody Sunday" of the Selma to Montgomery march.

Phoenix was an enormous opportunity wasted. Trump was able to put Charlottesville behind him. He cleaned up his "both sides" rhetoric and gave his fans what they wanted, attacks on the mainstream media. According to Mark Landler and Maggie Haberman in "At Rally, Trump Blames Media for Country’s Deepening Divisions":
Mr. Trump accused the news media of “trying to take away our history and our heritage,” an apparent reference to the debate over removing statues to heroes of the Confederacy, which prompted the rally by neo-Nazis and white supremacists in Charlottesville.
The president singled out a familiar list of malefactors — including the “failing New York Times,” which he erroneously said had apologized for its coverage of the 2016 election; CNN; and The Washington Post, which he described as a lobbying arm for Amazon, the company controlled by the newspaper’s owner, Jeff Bezos.
Trump's got a winning formula. If he fucks up in D.C. and loses control of the narrative, he just heads off to a sunbelt metropolis and puts on one of his cracker minstrel shows. Suddenly, he's back in charge, leading the news on his terms.

Phoenix was where all that could have ended and the battle that was won at Charlottesville reaffirmed. The fact that the "Resistance" either could not -- or chose not to -- shut down Trump in Phoenix is proof that the "Resistance" is merely a smokescreen for returning business-as-usual Democrats to power.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Trump's Phoenix Rally Ripe for a Shutdown

After reading Jess Bidgood's "What to Know Ahead of Trump’s Rally in Arizona" it is apparent that Trump's rally in Phoenix tonight is ripe for a direct-action shutdown. All the elements are present: a centralized location, the Phoenix Convention Center; lots of bodies on the street participating in numerous, separate rallies/marches; and a large, twitchy police force. The only thing missing is an organized Earth First!esque monkey-wrenching action, like a street sit-down with arms interlocked in PVC pipe. I don't know if the anarchist kids of antifa do direct action other than street fighting, but now would be an excellent time to expand the repertoire.

Monday, August 21, 2017

By the Time Trump Gets to Phoenix

When was the last time an event dominated the news for a week like Charlottesville did last week? When the U.S. bombed a Syrian government airfield in April? Maybe.

Trump is about to fan the flames of Charlottesville again. He is staging one of his cracker minstrel shows at the Phoenix Convention Center tomorrow night. Protesters are flocking to the Valley of the Sun. A riot is a distinct possibility.

Trump is going to Phoenix purely for political reasons. The question is whether he will pardon anti-immigrant former sheriff of Maricopa County Joe Arpaio, who, according to the NYT, "was found guilty of criminal contempt of court when he defied a judge’s order in a case involving racial profiling."

Trump's visit would likely have come off without a hitch prior to Charlottesville. But something has shifted in the body politic since last Saturday. The street is alive once again, and Democratic politicos are watching from the sidewalk. By the time Trump gets to Phoenix this marginalization of the elite will be on display once again for all to see. The Resistance is looking like a real resistance, so much so that Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi are no doubt losing sleep figuring out how to appropriate and/or tamp down the movement.

Friday, August 18, 2017

The Deep State's Russian Hacking Narrative Collapsing

After Charlottesville and the reintroduction of the throbbing heart of American politics, white supremacy, the deep-state spun yarn of Russian subversion of Western democracy looks exactly like what it was all along -- a dubious spy-vs.-spy potboiler complete with bears both fancy and cozy cooked up in Langley and spoon fed to a servile media.

Yesterday, as if to say, "Please, don't forget about the New Cold War when you are tearing down all those monuments to the Lost Cause," The New York Times published the frontpager, "In Ukraine, a Malware Expert Who Could Blow the Whistle on Russian Hacking," by its two journeymen Russophobes, Andrew Kramer and Andrew Higgins.

The story is laughable. A malware architect in Ukrainian custody is cooperating with FBI. We are asked to believe that portions of code the Ukrainian, known as Profexer, authored ended up on DNC servers. We are also asked to believe that somehow it was Russian agents who put the code there.
There is no evidence that Profexer worked, at least knowingly, for Russia’s intelligence services, but his malware apparently did.
That a hacking operation that Washington is convinced was orchestrated by Moscow would obtain malware from a source in Ukraine — perhaps the Kremlin’s most bitter enemy — sheds considerable light on the Russian security services’ modus operandi in what Western intelligence agencies say is their clandestine cyberwar against the United States and Europe.
It does not suggest a compact team of government employees who write all their own code and carry out attacks during office hours in Moscow or St. Petersburg, but rather a far looser enterprise that draws on talent and hacking tools wherever they can be found.
Also emerging from Ukraine is a sharper picture of what the United States believes is a Russian government hacking group known as Advanced Persistent Threat 28 or Fancy Bear. It is this group, which American intelligence agencies believe is operated by Russian military intelligence, that has been blamed, along with a second Russian outfit known as Cozy Bear, for the D.N.C. intrusion.
Rather than training, arming and deploying hackers to carry out a specific mission like just another military unit, Fancy Bear and its twin Cozy Bear have operated more as centers for organization and financing; much of the hard work like coding is outsourced to private and often crime-tainted vendors.
“There is not now and never has been a single piece of technical evidence produced that connects the malware used in the D.N.C. attack to the G.R.U., F.S.B. or any agency of the Russian government,” said Jeffrey Carr, the author of a book on cyberwarfare. The G.R.U. is Russia’s military intelligence agency, and the F.S.B. its federal security service.
United States intelligence agencies, however, have been unequivocal in pointing a finger at Russia.
The whole thing screams false flag. One interesting takeaway though is that the press, at least The New York Times, is starting to hedge with several statements ascribing the Russian hack theory solely to U.S. intelligence agencies. This is a recent change. For many months there was merely the bald assertion that "the Russians did it." Clearly when the "Russia hack" narrative collapses, as it already is, the media doesn't want to be forced to issue a series of retractions a la the Iraq War.

Assange says he has proof that DNC documents WikiLeaks published last year did not come from Russia. Combined with the studiously ignored story that the DNC documents were leaked not hacked, the casus belli of the deep state's New Cold War is disintegrating.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Black Bloc Brings Down the Confederate Monuments

In this morning's story, "Trump Comments on Race Open Breach With C.E.O.s, Military and G.O.P.," by Michael Shear, Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman, there is evidence that Trump has reached his "At long last, have you left no sense of decency?" moment:
The president’s top advisers described themselves as stunned, despondent and numb. Several said they were unable to see how Mr. Trump’s presidency would recover, and others expressed doubts about his capacity to do the job.
In contrast, the president told close aides that he felt liberated by his news conference. Aides said he seemed to bask afterward in his remarks, and viewed them as the latest retort to the political establishment that he sees as trying to tame his impulses.
Mr. Trump’s venting on Tuesday came despite pleas from his staff, including his daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner. Instead of taking their advice to stop talking about the protest, the president eagerly unburdened himself of what he viewed as political correctness in favor of a take-no-prisoners attack on the “alt-left.”
On Wednesday, even Fox News, a favorite of the president’s, repeatedly carried criticism of Mr. Trump. One Fox host, Shepard Smith, said that he had been unable to find a single Republican to come on-air to defend Mr. Trump’s remarks.
Whether Trump continues to hemorrhage depends on the next couple of days. The dissolution of two industry advisory panels by the White House yesterday, followed by news that Trump is fleeing to the bunker of Camp David, show an administration that is ducking and covering.

We can only hope the spotlight tarries on white supremacy for as long as possible. Charles Blow's column this morning, "The Other Inconvenient Truth," on the op-ed page of The New York Times is that that could appear in CounterPunch:
In 1994 John Ehrlichman, Nixon’s domestic-policy adviser and a Watergate co-conspirator, confessed this to the author Dan Baum:
“The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or blacks, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”
The era Ehrlichman referred to was the beginning of the War on Drugs. Nixon started his offensive in 1971, declaring in a speech from the White House Briefing Room: “America’s public enemy No. 1 in the United States is drug abuse. In order to fight and defeat this enemy, it is necessary to wage a new, all-out offensive.”
The object of disrupting communities worked all too well — more than 40 million arrests have been conducted for drug-related offenses since 1971, with African-Americans being incarcerated in state prisons for these offenses at a rate that is 10 times greater than that for whites, according to Human Rights Watch.
In 1970, Nixon’s political strategist Kevin Phillips told The New York Times, “The more Negroes who register as Democrats in the South, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans.”
The Republican Party wanted the racists. It was strategy, the “Southern Strategy,” and it too has proved wildly successful. From there this cancer took hold.
The party itself has dispensed with public confessions of this inclination — at least until Trump — but the white supremacy still survives and even thrives in policy. The stated goals of the Republican Party are not completely dissimilar from many of the white nationalist positions.
This is all true and an excellent thumbnail sketch of the constant rightward drift of national politics since Kevin Phillips penned The Emerging Republican Majority in 1969. But what Blow leaves out is how this superannuated strategy could still deliver the White House 50 years on. The answer is that the Democratic Party is guided by neoliberalism and militarism. The working class has nothing to support.

Enter Antifa. One could see this coming. With normal channels of political action ossified, anarchism has come back in a big way. It is the willingness of the Black Bloc to engage white supremacists that has prompted the rush to bring down the Confederate monuments. Public officials don't want to preside over the next Charlottesville.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Trump's Big Blunder

Trump made a significant blunder yesterday during his Trump Tower press conference. If you look at the video of the event, Trump is running scared. He declared an equivalence of violence between the white supremacists and the people who came out to protest their presence at Charlottesville.

The blunder is significant because it forces the "fake media" to become less fake. A pillar of the prestige press is to categorically deny any legitimacy, potency, urgency, effectiveness to popular leftist movements, all while inflating rightist power and popularity. To go along with this is the twin pillar of inflating any leftist property damage or scuffles with police during protests (see the Seattle WTO, Occupy Wall Street, etc.) as threats to the foundation of the state.

With Trump's assertion of equivalence between left and right at Charlottesville, the press has begun to debunk one of the great shibboleths of mainstream political discourse. For example, there is Linda Qiu's "Trump Asks, ‘What About the Alt-Left?’ Here’s an Answer":
[T]here is one stark difference between the violence on the two sides: The police said that James Alex Fields Jr. of Ohio drove his car into a crowd and killed at least one person, Heather Heyer. Mr. Fields was charged with second-degree murder.
Comparing Antifa to Mr. Fields’s act is like “comparing a propeller plane to a C-130 transport,” said Brian Levin, the director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino.
“Using the fact that some counterprotesters were, in fact, violent, creates a structural and moral false equivalency that is seriously undermining the legitimacy of this president,” Professor Levin said.
Antifa and black block — the far left of today — engaging in street brawls and property damage, while reprehensible, is “not domestic terrorism,” said J. J. MacNab, a fellow in the Program on Extremism at George Washington University. Similar episodes of extreme violence certainly exist on the left: the recent congressional baseball shooting in Virginia, or the bombing of the North Carolina Republican Party headquarters. 
But overall, far-right extremist plots have been far more deadly than far-left plots (and Islamist plots eclipsed both) in the past 25 years, according to a breakdown of two terrorism databases by Alex Nowrasteh, an analyst at the libertarian Cato Institute.
White nationalists; militia movements; anti-Muslim attackers; I.R.S. building and abortion clinic bombers; and other right-wing groups were responsible for 12 times as many fatalities and 36 times as many injuries as communists; socialists; animal rights and environmental activists; anti-white- and Black Lives Matter-inspired attackers; and other left-wing groups.
Of the nearly 1,500 individuals in a University of Maryland study of radicalization from 1948 to 2013, 43 percent espoused far-right ideologies, compared to 21 percent for the far left. Far-right individuals were more likely to commit violence against people, while those on the far left were more likely to commit property damage.
True, it is just one story. But I can't recall having seen anything like it in the pages of The New York Times. It is a good sign, and a bad one for Trump.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Trump's Hurricane Katrina

How many times can white resentment be resuscitated as a political force? Still potent in terms of controlling Congress, I thought it was dead as a factor determining a national election. I was wrong. The rural crackers came out in droves, to paraphrase Bibi Netanyahu speaking of Arab voters in the 2015 Israeli legislative elections, and cast ballots for Trump.

But this isn't a renascent power returning to occupy the center. This recrudescence of white nationalism is just as much about the failure of the Democrats to inspire mass voter participation. We are left with two major parties that have no broad popular appeal. Trump's political genius -- or is it Bannon's? -- was to recognize that in such a political environment any ideology that can galvanize a segment of the electorate is enough to beat the Democratic Party when it is led by Wall Street.

The downside to this strategy is that it is only a matter of time before sunshine appears and people react with revulsion. Charlottesville appears to be that moment. It's Trump's Hurricane Katrina. Voters don't want Gerald L.K. Smith as president.

Statues of Confederate heroes are coming down. Bannon is being made to walk the plank. This from today's Situation Report:
Bannon in Limbo. NYT: “Rupert Murdoch has repeatedly urged President Trump to fire him. Anthony Scaramucci, the president's former communications director, thrashed him on television as a white nationalist. Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, the national security adviser, refused to even say he could work with him.
"For months, Mr. Trump has considered ousting Stephen K. Bannon, the White House chief strategist and relentless nationalist who ran the Breitbart website and called it a 'platform for the alt-right.' Mr. Trump has sent Mr. Bannon to a kind of internal exile, and has not met face-to-face for more than a week with a man who was once a fixture in the Oval Office, according to aides and friends of the president.”
If Bannon goes Trump is left without his mix master; he'll be the star of The Apprentice sitting in the Oval Office with very little hope, other than that provided by the incompetence of the Democrats, that he can remain there after 2020.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Maidan Blowback: North Korea's ICBMs

UPDATE: In a post today, "Hyping North Korea To Relaunch Reagan's Star Wars?," Moon of Alabama denies the veracity of the entire NYT story:
One missile defense marketing pundit claimed today that the North Korean missile engines used in the recent tests were bought from factories in Ukraine or Russia. The usual propagandist at the New York Times picked up on that to further their anti-Russian theme:
"Mr. Elleman was unable to rule out the possibility that a large Russian missile enterprise, Energomash, which has strong ties to the Ukrainian complex, had a role in the transfer of the RD-250 engine technology to North Korea. He said leftover RD-250 engines might also be stored in Russian warehouses."
But the engines in question are of different size and thrust than the alleged R-250 engines and the claimed time-frame does not fit at all. The Ukrainian government denied any transfer of missiles or designs. The story was debunked with in hours by two prominent experts. But implicating Russia, however farfetched, is always good if one wants to sell more weapons.

The New York Times is one of the chief purveyors of Russophobia. Usually the newspaper's anti-Russia propaganda, at first glance at least, appears plausible. But that's not the case with this morning's offering by William Broad and David Sanger, "North Korea’s Missile Success Is Linked to Ukrainian Plant, Investigators Say."

The story, based on a new study by an International Institute for Strategic Studies missile expert, is that North Korea's recent ICBM success is due to the acquisition of Russian-designed engines, RD-250s, from a plant, Yuzhmash, in Dnipro, Ukraine. As Broad and Sanger explain:
Analysts who studied photographs of the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un, inspecting the new rocket motors concluded that they derive from designs that once powered the Soviet Union’s missile fleet. The engines were so powerful that a single missile could hurl 10 thermonuclear warheads between continents.
Those engines were linked to only a few former Soviet sites. Government investigators and experts have focused their inquiries on a missile factory in Dnipro, Ukraine, on the edge of the territory where Russia is fighting a low-level war to break off part of Ukraine. During the Cold War, the factory made the deadliest missiles in the Soviet arsenal, including the giant SS-18. It remained one of Russia’s primary producers of missiles even after Ukraine gained independence.
But since Ukraine’s pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych, was removed from power in 2014, the state-owned factory, known as Yuzhmash, has fallen on hard times. The Russians canceled upgrades of their nuclear fleet. The factory is underused, awash in unpaid bills and low morale. Experts believe it is the most likely source of the engines that in July powered the two ICBM tests, which were the first to suggest that North Korea has the range, if not necessarily the accuracy or warhead technology, to threaten American cities.
“It’s likely that these engines came from Ukraine — probably illicitly,” Mr. Elleman said in an interview. “The big question is how many they have and whether the Ukrainians are helping them now. I’m very worried.”
Throughout the story, Broad and Sanger repeatedly try to link the engine transfer, at least rhetorically, to Russia. There is no stronger tell than the highlighted passage above where Dnipro is painted a city on the front lines of the civil war. It is unclear from the sentence which side of the Novorossiya border Dnipro is located.

This is nothing more than crass propaganda. Dnipro has always remained loyal to the coup government in Kiev. It removed its Lenin statues and even changed the name of the city, Dnipropetrovsk, to comply with the 2015 decommunization law. (The city had been named after the Communist leader of Ukraine Grigory Petrovsky.)

If anything this story is your standard tale of CIA blowback. The United States instigated a coup in 2014 and, subsequently, one of its designated rogue nations has a powerful ICBM arsenal to go with its small stockpile of nuclear bombs.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Once Again: A Leak, Not a Hack

Yesterday The Nation published a lengthy article by Patrick Lawrence, "A New Report Raises Big Questions About Last Year’s DNC Hack," which categorically refutes the foundation of Russiagate, that computer servers for the Democratic National Committee were hacked last year by Russian agents. Lawrence, using a Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity recapitulation of events, says:
  • On June 12 last year, Julian Assange announced that WikiLeaks had and would publish documents pertinent to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
  • On June 14, CrowdStrike, a cyber-security firm hired by the DNC, announced, without providing evidence, that it had found malware on DNC servers and had evidence that Russians were responsible for planting it.
  • On June 15, Guccifer 2.0 first appeared, took responsibility for the “hack” reported on June 14 and claimed to be a WikiLeaks source. It then posted the adulterated documents just described. 
  • On July 5, Guccifer again claimed he had remotely hacked DNC servers, and the operation was instantly described as another intrusion attributable to Russia. Virtually no media questioned this account.
It does not require too much thought to read into this sequence. With his June 12 announcement, Assange effectively put the DNC on notice that it had a little time, probably not much, to act preemptively against the imminent publication of damaging documents. Did the DNC quickly conjure Guccifer from thin air to create a cyber-saboteur whose fingers point to Russia? There is no evidence of this one way or the other, but emphatically it is legitimate to pose the question in the context of the VIPS chronology. WikiLeaks began publishing on July 22. By that time, the case alleging Russian interference in the 2016 elections process was taking firm root. In short order Assange would be written down as a “Russian agent.”
We now know that it could not be hack -- the smoking gun, as it were -- because of what the metadata reveals about download speeds. As Lawrence explains:
Forensicator’s first decisive findings, made public in the paper dated July 9, concerned the volume of the supposedly hacked material and what is called the transfer rate—the time a remote hack would require. The metadata established several facts in this regard with granular precision: On the evening of July 5, 2016, 1,976 megabytes of data were downloaded from the DNC’s server. The operation took 87 seconds. This yields a transfer rate of 22.7 megabytes per second.
These statistics are matters of record and essential to disproving the hack theory. No Internet service provider, such as a hacker would have had to use in mid-2016, was capable of downloading data at this speed. Compounding this contradiction, Guccifer claimed to have run his hack from Romania, which, for numerous reasons technically called delivery overheads, would slow down the speed of a hack even further from maximum achievable speeds.
What is the maximum achievable speed? Forensicator recently ran a test download of a comparable data volume (and using a server speed not available in 2016) 40 miles from his computer via a server 20 miles away and came up with a speed of 11.8 megabytes per second—half what the DNC operation would need were it a hack. Other investigators have built on this finding. Folden and Edward Loomis say a survey published August 3, 2016, by is highly reliable and use it as their thumbnail index. It indicated that the highest average ISP speeds of first-half 2016 were achieved by Xfinity and Cox Communications. These speeds averaged 15.6 megabytes per second and 14.7 megabytes per second, respectively. Peak speeds at higher rates were recorded intermittently but still did not reach the required 22.7 megabytes per second.
“A speed of 22.7 megabytes is simply unobtainable, especially if we are talking about a transoceanic data transfer,” Folden said. “Based on the data we now have, what we’ve been calling a hack is impossible.” Last week Forensicator reported on a speed test he conducted more recently. It tightens the case considerably. “Transfer rates of 23 MB/s (Mega Bytes per second) are not just highly unlikely, but effectively impossible to accomplish when communicating over the Internet at any significant distance,” he wrote. “Further, local copy speeds are measured, demonstrating that 23 MB/s is a typical transfer rate when using a USB–2 flash device (thumb drive).”
Lawrence mentions a couple other forensic revelations of the metadata having to do with time stamps and the pasting of documents into a "a Russianified [W]ord document with Russian language settings and style headings," but to my mind it is the download-speed data -- something anyone who uses a computer and browses the internet understands intimately -- to which the intelligence community must respond:
By any balanced reckoning, the official case purporting to assign a systematic hacking effort to Russia, the events of mid-June and July 5 last year being the foundation of this case, is shabby to the point taxpayers should ask for their money back. The Intelligence Community Assessment, the supposedly definitive report featuring the “high confidence” dodge, was greeted as farcically flimsy when issued January 6. Ray McGovern calls it a disgrace to the intelligence profession. It is spotlessly free of evidence, front to back, pertaining to any events in which Russia is implicated. James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence, admitted in May that “hand-picked” analysts from three agencies (not the 17 previously reported) drafted the ICA. There is a way to understand “hand-picked” that is less obvious than meets the eye: The report was sequestered from rigorous agency-wide reviews. This is the way these people have spoken to us for the past year.
Behind the ICA lie other indefensible realities. The FBI has never examined the DNC’s computer servers—an omission that is beyond preposterous. It has instead relied on the reports produced by Crowdstrike, a firm that drips with conflicting interests well beyond the fact that it is in the DNC’s employ. Dmitri Alperovitch, its co-founder and chief technology officer, is on the record as vigorously anti-Russian. He is a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, which suffers the same prejudice. Problems such as this are many.
“We continue to stand by our report,” CrowdStrike said, upon seeing the VIPS blueprint of the investigation. CrowdStrike argues that by July 5 all malware had been removed from the DNC’s computers. But the presence or absence of malware by that time is entirely immaterial, because the event of July 5 is proven to have been a leak and not a hack. Given that malware has nothing to do with leaks, CrowdStrike’s logic appears to be circular.
In effect, the new forensic evidence considered here lands in a vacuum. We now enter a period when an official reply should be forthcoming. What the forensic people are now producing constitutes evidence, however one may view it, and it is the first scientifically derived evidence we have into any of the events in which Russia has been implicated. The investigators deserve a response, the betrayed professionals who formed VIPS as the WMD scandal unfolded in 2003 deserve it, and so do the rest of us. The cost of duplicity has rarely been so high.
Will there be a response? An "Aw, shucks" moment of mea culpa? I doubt it. All signs, such as recent evidence of a Google blacklist, point to the marginalization of dissent. The deep state has become so irrational it can no longer parry counter-narratives. It is sealed off and considers itself impregnable. Trump, for all his "As-Seen-on-TV" hucksterism, breached the castle walls. The effort underway is to make sure that doesn't happen again.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

GOP's Special Weapon: The Democratic Party

A good reason it is safe to assume that the GOP will remain the dominant party and retain the White House -- provided Trump doesn't blunder into a nuclear war, and provided Wall Street doesn't plunge the global economy into a second recession in ten years -- is that there is an existential split within the Democratic Party. The Bernie-vs.-Hillary, socialists-vs.-capitalists, young-vs.-old divisions have not been mended, but they have not blown up either; rather, they are frozen in an unhealthy stasis.

The Democratic Party's hope of taking back the House of Representatives in 2018 is dependent on how it does in California. But California, the aircraft carrier of Democratic power, is locked in a nasty, potentially litigious, leadership battle for the state party, as Adam Nagourney describes this morning in "Democratic Fight in California Is a Warning for the National Party":
California Democrats face a critical political challenge in 2018 as they seek to capture as many as seven Republican congressional seats, most of them in Southern California, a central part of the national party’s effort to win back Congress. California is heading into a potentially turbulent governor’s race next year as Mr. Brown — a widely respected, stabilizing force in Democratic politics — steps down after two terms. The party could also be enmeshed in a Senate race if Dianne Feinstein, who is 84, does not seek re-election next year.
The fight in this bluest of states has national repercussions for Democrats facing similar struggles about what the party should stand for — and how aggressive it should be in challenging Republicans — as it prepares for the 2018 congressional elections.
Steve McMahon, a Democratic consultant who advised Howard Dean, the Vermont governor, when he ran for president in 2004, compared what is happening with Democrats in California to the Tea Party’s emergence in heavily Republican districts in 2010.
Mr. McMahon said these struggles would probably move the party to the left, with one immediate result: Democrats in places like California will come under increasing pressure to support single-payer health care, much the same way opposition to the Iraq war, a central issue for Mr. Dean, became a litmus test issue for Democrats in 2004.
“You tend to see these kinds of things first in areas where there is single-party dominance,” Mr. McMahon said. “You’re going to start seeing this in other parts of the country in Democratic primaries — typically in districts where there is not an effective voice on the right. There will be those left-further left primaries in those districts where the further-left nominee will win.”
I don't see it that way. Yes, there might be some rhetorical platform drift leftward. But I don't see the moneybags yielding any substantive control. Look at the primary result in the Seattle mayor's race. Despite there being a cornucopia of Bernista candidates to choose from, Obama's U.S. Attorney, Jenny Durkan, the neoliberal's choice, trounced the field -- and this in the progressive's Oz, where the "Fight for $15" was won and where a firebrand socialist sits on the city council.

If the moneybags keep control of the Democratic Party, Republicans maintain their majority.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

"The Mainland United States Will be Catapulted into an Unimaginable Sea of Fire.”

It has been a red-letter day for apocalyptic rhetoric. Trump's "Fire and Fury" quote has topped Google News for a complete cycle. I think North Korea got the better of the exchange. According to Peter Baker and Choe Sang-hun reporting in "Trump Threatens ‘Fire and Fury’ Against North Korea if It Endangers U.S.":
Undaunted, North Korea warned several hours later that it was considering a strike that would create “an enveloping fire” around Guam, the western Pacific island where the United States operates a critical Air Force base. In recent months, American strategic bombers from Guam’s Andersen Air Force Base have flown over the Korean Peninsula in a show of force.
“Will only the U.S. have option called ‘preventive war’ as is claimed by it?” the Strategic Force of the North’s Korean People’s Army, or K.P.A., said in a statement. “It is a daydream for the U.S. to think that its mainland is an invulnerable Heavenly kingdom.”
The U.S. should clearly face up to the fact that the ballistic rockets of the Strategic Force of the K.P.A. are now on constant standby, facing the Pacific Ocean and pay deep attention to their azimuth angle for launch,” the statement said.
This week, after the United Nations vote, North Korea’s state-run Rodong Sinmun newspaper said, “The day the United States dares tease our nation with a nuclear weapon and sanctions, the mainland United States will be catapulted into an unimaginable sea of fire.”
There might be some hope for those of us lost in the daydream of our impregnable imperial heavenly kingdom. Experts believe that while North Korea has the ability to miniaturize a nuclear bomb and stow it aboard a intercontinental ballistic missile that could likely hit key populations centers in the the United States. What North Korea has not been able to perfect is the heat shielding required to protect the nuclear device from disintegrating upon the missile's scorching descent through the atmosphere.

Who are certainly to be bereft of hope are the citizens of Seoul. Since Trump has assumed his throne in the Oval Office and been locked in rhetorical battle with his younger opponent Kim Jong-un, various tallies of Seoul's population have appeared in the press. Nine million people reside in the city itself; 20 million in the metropolitan area; I have seen estimates as high as 40 million in the area along the DMZ vulnerable to North Korea's artillery.

Commentators usually quote 100,000 fatalities in Seoul, as Allan Nairn did on an appearance this morning on Democracy Now!:
ALLAN NAIRNFor years, there was a consensus, a complete consensus, within the U.S. establishment and military, that military action against North Korea was unthinkable, because, just with conventional artillery, North Korea could immediately devastate Seoul, killing more than 100,000, perhaps. But recently, the political culture and discussion around military action against North Korea has shifted. Colonel Guy Roberts, who’s a longtime Pentagon and NATO official, last year wrote an article calling for the U.S. to adopt a first-strike nuclear policy, to be willing to use nuclear weapons against a country—and he specifically mentioned North Korea as one—in the event they use conventional weapons. He wrote that last year. This year, Trump nominated him to be the assistant secretary of defense for nuclear policy. John Bolton recently wrote in The Wall Street Journal that the U.S. should consider a ground invasion of North Korea. Lindsey Graham recently quoted Trump as saying that the U.S. should be ready to destroy—
AMY GOODMAN: Let me go to that quote.
ALLAN NAIRN: —North Korea itself.
AMY GOODMAN: Let me go to that quote of Lindsey Graham, the Republican senator from South Carolina, being questioned last week on the Today show by Matt Lauer.
MATT LAUER: Every military expert says there is no good military option. 
SENLINDSEY GRAHAM: Well, they’re wrong. There is a military option. 
MATT LAUER: What’s a good one? 
SENLINDSEY GRAHAM: To destroy North Korea’s program and North Korea itself. He is not going to allow—President Trump—the ability of this madman to have a missile to hit America. If there’s going to be a war to stop him, it will be over there. If thousands die, they’re going to die over there. They’re not going to die here. And he’s told me that to my face.
Those 100,000 fatalities don't usually include the North's body count, which I imagine, given the superiority of U.S., South Korean and Japanese arms, would be greater than 100,000.

So conservatively we're looking at quarter-of-a-million war dead right off the proverbial bat. And given the U.S. track record in conflicts over the last half century, chances are there wouldn't be a fast finish to hostilities followed by an all-encompassing peace treaty.

But who knows? Maybe the Chinese would intervene, as they did during the Korean War, and the hot war would come to a rapid halt, if only because of the global outrage over nuclear fallout filling the atmosphere.

I don't mean to be glib, but at a certain point there is only so much anger one can muster for our totally defiled political class. That's why I shouldn't rant about the lack of an anti-war movement. The overwhelming feeling now is one of "What is the point?" There is almost zero contact between official power and the common folk. No wonder Game of Thrones is so popular.

Eventually though we're going to have to find our way back into the streets, and not just to #Resist.

Ask yourself  when was the last time you heard anything about the great "Resistance Summer"?

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

More Proof of Google's Blacklist + The Great Chinese Firewall Just Got Greater

More testimony is rolling in to the effect that Google is blacklisting left-of-center websites. Traffic to Truthout, Common Dreams and The Real News Network has dropped significantly in recent months. According to Andre Damon, "Evidence of Google blacklisting of left and progressive sites continues to mount":
A growing number of leading left-wing websites have confirmed that their search traffic from Google has plunged in recent months, adding to evidence that Google, under the cover of a fraudulent campaign against fake news, is implementing a program of systematic and widespread censorship.
Truthout, a not-for-profit news website that focuses on political, social, and ecological developments from a left progressive standpoint, had its readership plunge by 35 percent since April. The Real News , a nonprofit video news and documentary service, has had its search traffic fall by 37 percent. Another site, Common Dreams , last week told the WSWS that its search traffic had fallen by up to 50 percent.
As extreme as these sudden drops in search traffic are, they do not equal the nearly 70 percent drop in traffic from Google seen by the WSWS.
“Something has happened with Google across the board that affects left-wing media in a big way,” said Scott LaMorte, a web developer for both Truthout and The Real News.
“This is absolutely an aberration. It’s a three-year low for both Truthout and The Real News, and likely unprecedented in the life of these organizations. Neither have previously experienced three straight months of declines as they have since May.”
“It’s not like everybody on the left suddenly changed their SEO [Search engine optimization],” LaMorte said. “I don’t think it was a change in Google’s algorithm in how they value SEO practices.”
Eric Maas, a search engine optimization consultant working in the San Francisco Bay area, said his team has surveyed a wide range of alternative news sites affected by changes in Google’s algorithms since April. “These sites, which have had their search traffic fall by up to 67 percent, have a diverse range of content strategies and compliance with best practices advocated by Google and SEO experts.”
“This is political censorship of the worst sort; it’s just an excuse to suppress political viewpoints,” said Robert Epstein, a former editor in chief of Psychology Today and noted expert on Google. 
The massive drop in search traffic to the WSWS and other left-wing sites followed the implementation of changes in Google’s search evaluation protocols. In a statement issued on April 25, Ben Gomes, the company’s vice president for engineering, stated that Google’s update of its search engine would block access to “offensive” sites, while working to surface more “authoritative content.”
In a set of guidelines issued to Google evaluators in March, the company instructed its search evaluators to flag pages returning “conspiracy theories” or “upsetting” content unless “the query clearly indicates the user is seeking an alternative viewpoint.” 
An interesting story, Paul Mozur's "China’s Internet Censors Play a Tougher Game of Cat and Mouse," appeared in the business page of The New York Times last week. The tech giants are working with the Chinese government to strengthen its Great Firewall:
Chinese censors tested on Thursday [August 3] a new way of shutting down websites and cutting off the country’s internet users from the rest of the world. The censorship drill targeted tools that many in China use to thwart the country’s vast online censorship system, though internet companies said it also hit some sites at random.
China has embarked on an internet campaign that signals a profound shift in the way it thinks of online censorship. For years, the China government appeared content to use methods that kept the majority of people from reading or using material it did not like, such as foreign news outlets, Facebook and Google. For the tech savvy or truly determined, experts say, China often tolerated a bit of wiggle room, leading to online users’ playing a cat-and-mouse game with censors for more than a decade.
Now the authorities are targeting the very tools many people use to vault the Great Firewall. In recent days, Apple has pulled apps that offer access to such tools — called virtual private networks, or VPNs — off its China app store, while Amazon’s Chinese partner warned customers on its cloud computing service against hosting those tools on their sites. Over the past two months a number of the most popular Chinese VPNs have been shut down, while two popular sites hosting foreign television shows and movies were wiped clean.
Studies suggest that anywhere from tens of millions to well over a hundred million Chinese people use VPNs and other types of software to get around the Great Firewall. While the blocks on foreign television shows and pornography ward off many people, they often pose only minor challenges to China’s huge population of web-savvy internet users.
China’s online crackdowns are often cyclical. The current climate is in part the result of the lead-up to a key Chinese Communist Party meeting, the 19th Party Congress this autumn. Five years ago, ahead of a similar meeting, VPNs were hit by then-unprecedented disruptions.
My guess is that cracking down on VPNs had very little to do with the upcoming Communist Party Congress and much to do with "keeping up with the Jones." The PRC saw the tech giants kneeling in fealty to the Western deep state, and they wanted a similar display of obeisance. They got it.