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.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Signs Taliban are Planning for Peace

Part 2 of "Tehran's Turn" appeared yesterday in The New York Times Sunday Edition. Written by veteran Afghanistan reporter Carlotta Gall, "In Afghanistan, U.S. Exits, and Iran Comes In," repeats the fear-mongering of Part 1, which appeared mid-July, also in the Sunday paper, penned by Tim Arango, right down to the the headline, "Iran Dominates in Iraq After U.S. ‘Handed the Country Over’." 

The idea communicated to The Times' large Sunday audience is simple: U.S. military occupation of the Greater Middle East is all that stands in the path of an aggressive incipient Iranian empire. The truth is a bit more complex, but not by much: Iran is merely collecting the windfall created by the bellicose imperial U.S.

Gall is a good reporter who certainly knows the truth of Afghanistan, that the Taliban are proxies of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan:
President Trump recently lamented that the United States was losing its 16-year war in Afghanistan, and threatened to fire the American generals in charge.
There is no doubt that as the United States winds down the Afghan war — the longest in American history, and one that has cost half a trillion dollars and more than 150,000 lives on all sides — regional adversaries are muscling in.
Saudi Arabia and Pakistan remain the dominant players. But Iran is also making a bold gambit to shape Afghanistan in its favor.
This "bold gambit" is fleshed out entirely with quotes from Afghan officials, particularly Afghan intelligence. So a discerning critical reader will come away skeptical as to the extent of Iranian influence in Afghanistan. Gall, based on her published story, could just have easily replaced Iran with Russia.

The story goes something like this: Taliban CEO Mullah Mansour was on his way back from a powwow in Iran with Russian officials when he was blown up by a U.S. drone. Pakistan had blessed the assassination believing that Mansour had strayed too far off the reservation:
The death of Mullah Mansour removed Iran’s crucial link to the Taliban. But it has also fractured the Taliban, spurring a number of high-level defections and opening opportunities for others, including Iran, to meddle.
An overwhelming majority of Taliban blame Pakistan for Mullah Mansour’s death. The strike deepened disillusionment with their longtime Pakistani sponsors.
About two dozen Taliban commanders, among them senior leaders who had been close to Mullah Mansour, have since left their former bases in Pakistan.
They have moved quietly into southern Afghanistan, settling back in their home villages, under protection of local Afghan security officials who hope to encourage a larger shift by insurgents to reconcile with the government.
Those with family still in Pakistan live under close surveillance and control by Pakistani intelligence, said the former Taliban commander, who recently abandoned the fight and moved his family into Afghanistan to escape reprisals.
He said he had become increasingly disaffected by Pakistan’s highhanded direction of the war. “We all know this is Pakistan’s war, not Afghanistan’s war,” he said. “Pakistan never wanted Afghanistan to be at peace.”
The lede of Gall's story, that the Taliban are no longer entirely operated by remote control from Islamabad, thanks in no small part to assassination of Mullah Mansour, is buried beneath a lot of malarkey about Iranian meddling.

Any feelers the Taliban make in the direction of Russia and Iran are for peace. The Pakistan/U.S./Saudi position is one of perpetual war. That is how the U.S. role in Afghanistan is frequently referred to now in the mainstream media.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Leak Not a Hack

Antiwar's Justin Raimondo has a column worth reading this morning, "Has Seymour Hersh Debunked ‘Russia-gate’? Hersh says Seth Rich contacted WikiLeaks." Raimondo, providing an analysis of a recorded phone conversation between Sy Hersh and GOP financier Ed Butowsky, makes a compelling case that the whole "Cozy Bear/Fancy Bear Russian Intelligence hack of the DNC" is a fiction concocted by U.S. spooks. What most plausibly happened is that a DNC staffer leaked the material in exchange for money.
Hersh, who has been around the block several times, and is intimately familiar with how the intelligence community operates – as well as being personally familiar with the individuals involved – is onto the game that’s being play here. In his words:
“I have a narrative of how that whole fucking thing began, it’s a Brennan operation, it was an American disinformation and fucking the fucking President, at one point when they, they even started telling the press, they were back briefing the press, the head of the NSA was going and telling the press, fucking cock-sucker Rogers, was telling the press that we even know who in the GRU, the Russian Military Intelligence Service, who leaked it. I mean [it’s] all bullshit…. Trump’s not wrong to think they all fucking lie about him.”
It’s all bullshit: Russia-gate, the “collusion” gambit, and the whole avalanche of fake “news” that purports to describe a Russian conspiracy to “undermine our democracy.” It’s a lie, pure and simple. More than that: it’s an exact inversion of the truth. Because what’s happening is that a vast intelligence-gathering apparatus is being utilized to undermine an elected President and undertake what is in effect a “legal” coup d’etat. But then again, projection has always been an essential element of the War Party’s methodology.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Timber Sycamore: The Largest U.S. Covert War Since Afghanistan in the 1980s

This is how it works. For the life of the covert program the government will not officially recognize its existence. The mainstream media proves compliant by not reporting on it in any thorough, coherent way. Then, once the program is rolled up, lo and behold! It turns out to have been gigantic, the main driver of everything in the region. What does this say then about the prestige press reporting about Syria since 2013?

What we know from "Under Trump, a Hollowed-Out Force in Syria Quickly Lost C.I.A. Backing," by Mark Mazzetti, Adam Goldman and Michael Schmidt, other than a obfuscating headline, is that the main points found in alternative media about the war in Syria have been validated: The CIA armed and funded Nusra Front, the arm of Al Qaeda in Syria, through the Free Syrian Army, an umbrella of Western/GCC mercenary ad hoc militias. Nusra fought alongside these CIA militias. The only distinction was a nominal one.

We are left with the fundamental contradiction of U.S. involvement in Syria. The legislative fig leaf that justifies a U.S. presence in Syria is the 2001 AUMF, which grants the U.S. the right to wage war against Al Qaeda and its affiliates. Yet what the U.S. did in Syria -- and no doubt continues to do on a smaller scale -- is wage war alongside Al Qaeda.

How long can such fundamental dishonesty be maintained?
WASHINGTON — The end came quickly for one of the costliest covert action programs in the history of the C.I.A. 
During a White House briefing early last month, the C.I.A. director, Mike Pompeo, recommended to President Trump that he shut down a four-year-old effort to arm and train Syrian rebels. The president swiftly ended the program.
The rebel army was by then a shell, hollowed out by more than a year of bombing by Russian planes and confined to ever-shrinking patches of Syria that government troops had not reconquered. Critics in Congress had complained for years about the costs — more than $1 billion over the life of the program — and reports that some of the C.I.A.-supplied weapons had ended up in the hands of a rebel group tied to Al Qaeda further sapped political support for the program.
While critics of Mr. Trump have argued that he ended the program to curry favor with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, there were in fact dim views of the effort in both the Trump and Obama White Houses — a rare confluence of opinion on national security policy.
The shuttering of the C.I.A. program, one of the most expensive efforts to arm and train rebels since the agency’s program arming the mujahedeen in Afghanistan during the 1980s, has forced a reckoning over its successes and failures. Opponents say it was foolhardy, expensive and ineffective. Supporters say that it was unnecessarily cautious, and that its achievements were remarkable given that the Obama administration had so many restrictions on it from the start, which they say ultimately ensured its failure. 
President Barack Obama had reluctantly agreed to the program in 2013 as the administration was struggling to blunt the momentum of Syrian government forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad. It soon fell victim to the constantly shifting alliances in Syria’s six-year-old civil war and the limited visibility that American military and intelligence officials had over what was occurring on the ground.
Once C.I.A.-trained fighters crossed into Syria, C.I.A. officers had difficulty controlling them. The fact that some of their C.I.A. weapons ended up with Nusra Front fighters — and that some of the rebels joined the group — confirmed the fears of many in the Obama administration when the program began. Although the Nusra Front was widely seen as an effective fighting force against Mr. Assad’s troops, its Qaeda affiliation made it impossible for the Obama administration to provide direct support for the group.
American intelligence officials estimate that the Nusra Front now has as many 20,000 fighters in Syria, making it Al Qaeda’s largest affiliate. Unlike other Qaeda affiliates such as Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the Nusra Front has long focused on battling the Syrian government rather than plotting terrorist attacks against the United States and Europe.
The American officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they did not want to be identified discussing a program that is classified.
In the summer of 2012, David H. Petraeus, who was then C.I.A. director, first proposed a covert program of arming and training rebels as Syrian government forces bore down on them.
The proposal forced a debate inside the Obama administration, with some of Mr. Obama’s top aides arguing that Syria’s chaotic battlefield would make it nearly impossible to ensure that weapons provided by the C.I.A. could be kept out of the hands of militant groups like the Nusra Front. Mr. Obama rejected the plan.
But he changed his mind the following year, signing a presidential finding authorizing the C.I.A. to covertly arm and train small groups of rebels at bases in Jordan. The president’s reversal came in part because of intense lobbying by foreign leaders, including King Abdullah II of Jordan and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, who argued that the United States should take a more active role in trying to end the conflict.
Given the code name Timber Sycamore, the covert program began slowly, but by 2015 the C.I.A.-backed rebel groups had made significant progress against Syrian forces, pushing into areas of the country long considered to be government strongholds. The offensive gained momentum after the C.I.A. and Saudi Arabia began supplying the powerful tank-destroying weapons to the rebel groups.
But the rebel push in Idlib, Hama and Latakia Provinces in northern Syria also created problems for Washington. The Nusra Front, often battling alongside the C.I.A.-supported rebel groups, made its own territorial gains.
It was Nusra’s battlefield successes that Mr. Putin used as one justification for the Russian military offensive in Syria, which began in 2015. The Russian campaign, a relentless bombing of the C.I.A.-backed fighters and Nusra militants, battered the rebels and sent them into retreat.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

9/11 Lawsuit Against Saudi Arabia in the News

Sightings of news regarding the lawsuit against Saudi Arabia for its role in 9/11 are an infrequent occurrence. It's an enormous story, but one that is largely kept under wraps, except when, like yesterday, there is a court appearance.

Of the two main stories -- a Reuters article by Jonathan Stempel, "Saudi Arabia seeks to end U.S. lawsuits over Sept. 11 attacks," and one by Creede Newton in Al Jazeera, nearly identically headlined, "Saudi Arabia seeks to end US lawsuits over 9/11 attacks" -- you would expect Al Jazeera's to be more hard-hitting since it is being, or was recently, targeted for closure by al-Saud. But it wasn't the case. I found the Reuters piece to be better, but not by much:
Saudi Arabia is being sued for billions of dollars by the families of roughly 2,500 of those killed, more than 20,000 people who suffered injuries, businesses and various insurers.
"It is what we expected," James Kreindler, a lawyer representing the wrongful death claimants, said in an interview, referring to Tuesday's filing. "We have tons of allegations of what many Saudis and the country's alter ego charities did. Saudi Arabia cannot hide from the facts."
In September 2015, U.S. District Judge George Daniels, who oversees the litigation, had dismissed claims by victims' families.
But last September, the U.S. Congress overrode a veto by President Barack Obama and adopted the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), which permits such claims to proceed.
In Tuesday's filing, Saudi Arabia acknowledged that JASTA eliminated some of its defenses.
But it said the plaintiffs still could not show that any Saudi official, employee or agent planned or carried out the attacks.
It said this included Omar Al Bayoumi, said to be a Saudi intelligence officer who met with two hijackers in San Diego and been "tasked" to help them, including by finding an apartment and opening a bank account.
There is this compelling paragraph in the Al Jazeera story:
Former Senator Bob Graham, the co-chair of Congress's 9/11 Joint Inquiry and one of the voices alleging the Saudis and the hijackers were connected, told Politico he no longer called the US government's actions a "cover-up". That would be "a passive activity. What they're doing now I call aggressive deception."
 That's because the USG and KSA are, like gut flora, locked in symbiosis.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The Wisdom of Sam Shepard

I've been a fan of Sam Shepard's since I saw the American Playhouse production of True West that was broadcast on PBS in 1984. We had the television on the kitchen table, and I sat there, next to the refrigerator, watching it while drinking beer out of the can. My girlfriend preferred to study her textbooks in the living room.

So affected by the play's portrayal of the voodoo of familial dysfunction, I purchased a paperback copy. I think I ended up presenting it as a gift to an older cousin.

There was this wonderful Shepard sentiment in today's NYT obit, "Sam Shepard, Actor and Pulitzer-Winning Playwright, Is Dead at 73," written by Ben Brantley:
As for love between a man and a woman, Mr. Shepard, whose long relationship with the actress Jessica Lange cast an unwanted spotlight on his private life, described that as “terrible and impossible.” He later explained: “It’s impossible the way people enter into it feeling they’re going to be saved by the other one. And it seems like many, many times that quicksand happens in a relationship when you feel that somehow you can be saved.”
Just think how much money spent on psychotherapy could be saved if somehow you could impart this message to the masses; after all, that's what "burdens of a bachelor" means -- to prudentially forego the pursuit of that feeling of salvation.

We'll have to get around to another Hippies vs. Punks post on The Holy Modal Rounders.

If Trump Scuttles the Iranian Nuclear Deal He Destroys the U.S. Unipolar World

UPDATE: Fifteen years ago I used to read Antiwar all the time. I don't know why I fell out of the habit. Occasionally I look in and see what there is to see. I must say today I was tickled to find three spot-on opinion pieces by Pat Buchanan, "Shall We Fight Them All?"; Medea Benjamin, "Time to Hit the Reset Button on US-Korean Policy"; and Ron Paul, "North Korea or Iran… Where Will President Trump Attack First?" All three examine various aspects of Trump's war fever. According to Paul,
Twice in the past week the US military has fired at Iranian ships in the Persian Gulf. On Tuesday an Iranian military ship in the Persian Gulf was warned off by machine gun blasts from a US Naval vessel. Then on Friday the US Navy fired warning flares toward another Iranian ship operating in the Persian Gulf.
Imagine if the US Navy had encountered Iranian warships in the Gulf of Mexico firing machine guns at them when they approached the Iranians.
Facing new sanctions, the Iranian government announced that it will not end ballistic missile testing even under US pressure. The missile program is not a violation of the P5+1 Iran deal unless it is specifically designed to carry nuclear weapons.
So whom will Trump attack first? Let’s hope nobody, but with continuing pressure from both Democrats and Republicans over the unproven “Russiagate” allegations, it increasingly looks like he will seek relief by starting a “nice little war.” If he does so, however, his presidency will likely be over and he may end up blundering into a much bigger war in the process.
Although Trump’s bombastic rhetoric on Iran and North Korea has been pretty consistent, the American people voted Trump because he was seen as the less likely of the two candidates to get the US into a major war.
A recent study by the Boston University and the University of Minnesota concluded that Trump won the most votes in parts of the country with the highest military casualties. Those most directly suffering the costs of war were attracted to the candidate they saw as less likely to take the US into another major war. These are the Americans living in the swing states of Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan that surprised the pundits by voting for Trump over Hillary.
Will Trump’s legacy be blustering us into one or two wars that will make Iraq and Afghanistan look like cakewalks by comparison? Millions dead? It’s time to make our voices known before it’s too late!
I think Paul is right. Buchanan says basically the same thing. Among Trump's base the realization is going to sink in that he, like Obama, is not playing three-dimensional chess. Trump is planning for war. Already his woeful approval ratings are starting to dip even further.

But even with Trump gone from the White House there is no sign that Congress would be any less bellicose.

One positive in all this is that Europe now must wake up. As Oliver Stone said in recent interview with Dennis Bernstein,
We’re seeing Europe begin to wake up and realize that NATO is not what it was proposed to be and that the United States is not such a great partner to have. Maybe the US is just interested in Europe as a buffer state between us and them [Russia]. Maybe Europe is beginning to feel more like a hostage than an ally. If the United States cannot yield its superiority, it is going to be a very rocky road ahead for everyone.

With The Mooch immolated on a pyre of his own making, the toxic fallout from the collapse of Trumpcare still clouding nation's capital, administration officials acknowledging that North Korea can hit most of the U.S. with ballistic missiles, and the White House throwing down the gauntlet to Nicolas Maduro, it is easy to see how a story from last week about the Trump/neocon plan to torpedo the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), a.k.a., the Iranian Nuclear Deal, got lost.

A good one-stop site for all the ins and outs is LobeLog. There are several informative stories, but start with Trita Parsi's "The Mask Is Off: Trump Is Seeking War with Iran."

The idea is to phony-up an excuse to pull out of the JCPOA by demanding intrusive inspections of Iranian military sites. When Iran refuses, the U.S. can act the aggrieved party and scrap the nuclear deal. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker calls this strategy "radical enforcement."

The problem is that in order for it to work Trump needs five of the eight members of the JCPOA joint commission to go along with him. The eight members are the United States, the European Union, Russia, China, the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Iran. Trump can't muster a single vote beyond his own. Theresa May's wobbly government would topple if the British public perceived another pretext for a Middle East war. France has signed a number of large business deals with Iran. Germany refused to bomb Syria, and so on.

In other words, it is beyond the ability of the U.S. to even create the pretext which would justify a withdrawal. I suppose Trump could withdraw the U.S. from the JCPOA unilaterally -- a replay of  the run up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003 -- but the coalition of the willing (COW) would be a much shrunken beast from its "shock and awe" version of 15 years ago.

Let's remember that Obama and Kerry worked as diligently as they did to arrive at a nuclear deal with Iran because the sanctions regime was falling apart. The rest of the world was ready to do business with Persia.

Since the dawn of the caliphate in 2014, and its broadly acknowledged though undeclared support by the Gulf sheihkdoms, Iran looks better to the West than it ever has.

Looking on the bright side of things, a move by Trump to scuttle the JCPOA would usher in the end of the era of the U.S. unipolar world.