Friday, September 29, 2017

Sistani Says No to Kurdish Independence

The spiritual leader of Iraq's Shiite population, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has weighed in on Masoud Barzani's quixotic independence gambit for Iraqi Kurdistan. As reported this afternoon in the Washington Post by Mustafa Salim, Aaso Ameen Schwan and Tamer El-Ghobashy, "Iraq bans flights to Kurdish region as rift grows over independence bid":
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s tough reaction to the Kurdish ballot received a boost from the country’s highest Shiite religious authority, the influential Ayatollah Ali Sistani. In a sign of the growing anxiety in Iraq’s power centers over the vote, Sistani’s representative used his weekly Friday sermon to criticize the referendum as destabilizing to both Arabs and Kurds, arguing that it invites international meddling in Iraq’s affairs.
“I call on the government to consider the Kurds’ constitutional rights in their measures,” Sistani’s representative said, sounding a conciliatory tone. At the same time, Sistani rejected any challenge to Iraq’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Sistani has not appeared in public in several years, but he wields considerable influence in Iraq’s politics. An edict he issued in 2014 urging Shiites to take up arms in defense of Baghdad and southern Iraq during an Islamic State onslaught is largely credited with mustering a force strong enough to stem the extremist group’s blitz in the country.
As far as I can tell, Ayatollah Sistani's political instincts are close to infallible. If he says no to Kurdish independence, chances are an independent Iraqi Kurdistan is not going to happen.

Neoliberal Reboot Crashes

Until June, 2017 looked to be the year that the zombie neoliberal consensus got its mojo working again. In the Netherlands, the bogeyman ultra-nationalist Geert Wilders was beaten back at the polls; then, a couple months later, neoliberal hosannas filled the pages of the Western prestige press as Emmanuel Macron and his upstart En Marche! party dominated French elections.

It looked as if the neoliberal ruling elite had put the dark days of 2016 -- Brexit and the Trumpocalypse -- in the rear-view mirror. Then in June the Brits once again deposited a turd in the neoliberal punch bowl in the form of a surprisingly virile showing by the Corbynist Labour Party. Tory prime minister Theresa May had called early elections with the intention of dealing a death blow to Labour, and the outcome turned out to be the opposite of what was anticipated.

Now, this past week, the legacy media once again has been processing a shock to its neoliberal sensibilities. Merkel, the beloved monarch of the zombie neoliberal world order, and her Christian Democrats performed, much like May's Conservatives in June, so poorly that they now are forced to attempt to govern in coalition with the Free Democratic Party.

This is important because the Free Democrats are opposed to the type of further European integration espoused by uber-neoliberals like Macron. In a speech on Tuesday -- obviously meant to dovetail with the Merkel landslide that failed to appear -- Macron called for a United States of  Europe, the long-held Sweet Beulah Land of neoliberals. As Steven Erlanger explains this morning in "Emmanuel Macron’s Lofty Vision for Europe Gets Mixed Reviews":
Rather than retrenchment, [Macron] sees a revived European Union as the best antidote to increasing nationalism, populism and Euroskepticism from the far right and far left, as evidenced even in core bloc countries like France and Germany.
The European Union, he said, should embrace a joint budget for those using the euro — “a real budget at the heart of Europe,” he said; construct a shared military force; and harmonize taxes and the minimum wage to stay globally relevant.
He wants a common European asylum agency and border police, a eurozone finance minister responsible to the European Parliament and a European Monetary Fund to aid member states in budget trouble.
The problem for the neoliberals is that they have been gulled by there own propaganda. True, Wilders didn't win the Dutch elections back in March, but neither did the established parties of the neoliberal center. They lost seats. Same thing in the French elections this past spring, and again this month in German.

The neoliberal mainstream organs are bleeding out. May is wobbly, ready to fall. Merkel is weakened. And Macron, as Pauline Bock reports in the New Statesman, "'The slackers have taken to the streets!': Macron’s labour reforms split France," has an approval rating below Trump:
The labour reforms are the first real test for Macron, whose approval ratings have collapsed from 66 per cent after his election in May to 30 per cent in early September. This followed Macron’s decision to reduce housing aid and to push through the new labour law via government rulings, without a vote, despite his party’s parliamentary majority.
Macron is governing from the hard right. Tax cuts for the wealthy; emergency police powers enshrined into law; anti-labor, etc. The neoliberal reboot has crashed after a scant four months.

And the Catalonia independence referendum is in 48 hours . . . .

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Kurdish Overreach

It is becoming apparent that Masoud Barzani overreached with his independence vote. Without the vote, de facto Kurdish control of the disputed oil-rich city of Kirkuk could have continued indefinitely, including the pipeline to Turkey, as well as the lucrative border crossings with Turkey. With the vote, all of the above is now at risk. Granted, the Iraqis are refusing to negotiate at present; but if they do ever come to the table, there are plenty of demands they can make.

Iraq is set to make good on its threat to close the airspace of the Kurdistan Regional Government. As outlined by David Zucchino in "Iraq Escalates Dispute With Kurds, Threatening Military Action":
Beyond the threats of military action, Iraqi authorities have struggled to come up with any meaningful punishment for the Kurds for carrying out the referendum. But with its move to shut down flights to the landlocked region, Iraq seems to have found a weak point.
Iraqi aviation authorities notified foreign airlines on Wednesday that it would cancel all permits to land and take off from two international airports in the Kurdish region as of Friday afternoon. The action followed an ultimatum by Prime Minister Abadi on Tuesday for Kurdistan to surrender control of its two international airports or face a shutdown of international flights.
The Kurdish Regional Government said Wednesday that it would refuse to hand over the airports. The region’s transportation minister, Mawlud Murad, called the Iraqi ultimatum “political and illegal.” He said the airports were critical to the American-led coalition’s fight against Islamic State militants.
Kurdish officials had planned to send a delegation to Baghdad on Wednesday to discuss the issue, but the offer was rebuffed.
On Wednesday night, Mr. Murad said that the Kurdish government had agreed to hold talks with Iraq about placing Iraqi government observers at its airports.
There was no immediate public response from the Iraqi government, but Mr. Abadi, speaking to Parliament earlier, said Iraq would not negotiate with the Kurds unless they annulled the results of the vote.
He said he had warned the Kurds “of the consequences of the crisis with Kurdistan.”
“The preservation of the security of the citizens of the country is our priority,” he added.
At least six airlines — three Turkish companies, the Lebanese carrier Middle East Airlines, Royal Jordanian and Egypt Air — started notifying passengers on Wednesday that they were canceling regularly scheduled flights from the airports in Erbil and Sulaimaniya.
Baghdad can make good on its threat because the Iraqi civil aviation authority oversees all airports in the country, including the two international airports in the Kurdish region.
The threat to cancel landing and takeoff permits would force international airlines to cancel flights to those airports because insurance risks would be too high, according to Robert W. Mann Jr., a former airline executive who is now an industry consultant.
“The issue turns on which entity controls Kurdish region airspace and airports,” Mr. Mann said. “Unless and until the autonomous region is given that control, Iraq controls and can ban, blockade or embargo air service to airports under its control, much as Qatari airports have been embargoed or blockaded by nearby nations. Faced with such a restriction, most commercial airlines would comply, in part due to warnings by their insurers.”
The Turkish Consulate in Erbil said that Turkish airlines were working to increase their seat capacity in an effort to get all passengers out of the Kurdish areas before the flight ban took effect on Friday afternoon.
Without international flights, getting in or out of Kurdistan would require going through Turkey, Iran, Syria or Iraq, where there are also threats of a blockade.
The Iraqi Parliament urged the government on Wednesday to close off its land border with Kurdistan.
For years, the Kurdish authorities in Erbil have controlled their own borders with Turkey and Syria. Mr. Abadi has demanded that all borders return to full Iraqi central government control by Friday.
I suppose KRG could issue its own flight permits, and the Israelis would likely use them, as would the United States. Right now, with the support of Turkey and Iran, the Iraqi position is too strong for the U.S. If the embargo can be broken, I'm sure the thinking in Foggy Bottom goes, then Baghdad can be forced to negotiate.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

KRG Independence Referendum Continuation of Caliphate's Political Project: Dismemberment of Iraq

You can usually infer what is troubling the Deep State by what is omitted from Foreign Policy's daily Situation Report. This morning there is zero mention of the ongoing story of Monday's independence referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan (there was a brief mention of it yesterday). The results of the referendum supposedly will be announced today. Already officials of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) have leaked to the press that the vote is overwhelmingly "Yes" to independence.

The response from KRG's neighbors has been predictable. Turkey and Iraq are conducting military drills on KRG's northern border. Erdogan threatens war. Iran has banned flights to Iraqi Kurdistan. Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi has demanded the return of the international airports by Friday. Iraq's parliament has asked Abadi to send troops to secure the oil-rich multi-ethnic city of Kirkuk. KRG seized Kirkuk, basically in coordination with ISIS when the jihadis captured Mosul, back in 2014.

Mention of this by David Zucchino, in his story "Iraq Orders Kurdistan to Surrender Its Airports," fails to emphasize the simultaneity of the ISIS-Kurdish blitz:
As the Islamic State rose in northern Iraq in 2014, Kurdish fighters took advantage of the chaos, and in some cases of fleeing Iraqi troops, to expand the Kurdish territory by 40 percent.
We need to interpret the independence referendum as a continuation of the political program of the caliphate. The caliphate was always a GCC project designed to dismember sovereign nations aligned with Iran; an independent Kurdistan, or several independent Kurdish states, accomplishes this.

The U.S. position on the referendum is clearly duplicitous. While the U.S. is officially opposed, one can divine its tacit approval from The New York Times' serially sympathetic coverage of the referendum, captured in a previous Zucchino story, "As Kurds Celebrate Independence Vote, Neighbors Threaten Military Action." The Kurds are presented as victims of Iraqi genocide.

Often the most reliable way to ascertain U.S. policy is look at its organs of propaganda.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Trump's Big NFL Blunder

The Democrats, even with their warmongering and their Wall Street agenda, have polled over 65 million votes in the last three presidential elections. Neither Trump, Romney nor McCain made it to 63 million.

But thanks to gerrymandering and the 200-plus-year-old gift to the slavocracy/plantocracy (Electoral College) Trump won the White House in 2016 by accumulating 304 electoral votes. He accomplished this primarily by flipping the industrial Midwest -- Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio -- as well as Pennsylvania. 

I didn't think it was possible. I thought the Southern Strategy was dead in presidential politics. I thought Obama had killed it; plus, there is the overall demographic trend, summarized in the August Newsweek story, "WHITE NATIONALISTS ARE RIGHT: AMERICA IS BECOMING LESS WHITE":
Nevertheless, under the current racial demographics widely accepted across the U.S., white people have seen signs that their dominance over the general population might be waning. The Census Bureau announced in 2012 that non-Hispanic whites made up a minority of births in the U.S. for the first time. That year, minorities made up 50.4 percent of the nation's infants, in part because of a booming Hispanic population. 
Some demographers have predicted the U.S. will become a majority-minority nation by 2050, with African-Americans, Asians, Hispanics and other minority groups outnumbering the people we call white. 
The shift in the nation's racial demographics have already been stark. In 1965, whites represented 85 percent of the population, with the other 15 percent made up of African-Americans. These days, white people make up just 60 percent of the nation, while Hispanics account for 18 percent and Asians about 6 percent. 
"The forces behind this transformation are a mix of immigration, births and deaths. The United States is more than four decades into what has been, in absolute numbers, the biggest immigration wave in its history–more than 40 million arrivals. Unlike previous waves that were almost entirely from Europe, the modern influx has been dominated by Hispanic and Asian immigrants," the Pew Research Center concluded in 2012. 
But I also believed in an acute public disdain for the progressive charlatanism of Obama and Clinton; my mistake is I thought that there was enough reality to the mythical minivan piloting soccer mom that a TV huckster like Trump wouldn't stand a chance in Keystone State and America's Dairyland suburbs. Of course those were the voters who gave Trump his 'W.'

Now Trump is going all in with the Southern Strategy, which you will recall was Kevin Phillips' plan after the 1968 presidential election for Nixon to co-opt George Wallace voters (blue-collar, lunch-bucket Democrat bigots) for the GOP. 

Trump is going all in by attacking the last refuge of national identity in the United States, the National Football League. He is sowing division by questioning the "Americanism" of players, overwhelming black, who are protesting institutional racism by kneeling or raising a clenched fist during the pre-game performance of the national anthem.

Trump has done this in the belief that it is good politics, that NFL viewership is "way down" because fans are turned off by player activism. By demanding that these players be fired and calling them "sons of bitches," Trump is looking to fluff up his approval ratings.

But Trump has been gulled by "fake news," as Manuela Tobias susses out in a PolitiFact piece published Sunday. The polls which purportedly establish anthem protests as a main reason for people not watching football are a joke:
Trump spokesman Steven Cheung pointed to a Seton Hall Sports Poll that found that 56 percent of 841 respondents cited players not standing for the national anthem as a reason for last year’s ratings drop.
But as CNBC pointed out, the poll asked why other people — rather than respondents — aren't watching football. About half the people polled said they either follow sports "not closely" or "not at all," but coverage of Kaepernick’s kneeling was widely covered by the media.
A similar J.D. Power survey Cheung cited also reported national anthem protests as the main reason NFL fans watched less games last season.
"Among the 12 percent who watch less (sports), 26 percent of them say national anthem protests are to blame, however those respondents reflect only 3 percent of the full, nationwide sample," the researchers wrote.
Various pundits criticized the survey results as negligible, pointing out that for every one person turned off by protests, 10 NFL fans tuned in.
"If a larger share of respondents claimed they watched more NFL, the fact that NFL ratings were actually down last year is good enough reason to discard this survey as meaningless," Patrick Redford wrote in Deadspin.
Like the Seton Hall survey, the reasons for tuning out were offered as a list for respondents to choose from, so people weren’t necessarily offering the anthem protests on their own, and respondents could provide multiple answers.
Paulsen said that NFL rating drops aren’t unprecedented, with similar declines in the ‘80s, ‘90s and the first half of the 2000s.
"It’s only now that people are deciding it’s a political issue, that people are really focusing on it. There’s any number of reasons to believe that what’s happening right now is not necessarily political," Paulsen said, including a loss of interest among younger viewers.
NFL viewership is down, which Tobias' story acknowledges -- eight percent in 2016 (it was double that the first part of the season, but rebounded later) and on pace for an equal drop this year. And Trump is right when he says "Boring games yes," but wrong when he attributes ultra-nationalism as a primary reason for fans tuning out the NFL. Why? The ratings drop has hit other sports as well, and in those sports, like soccer, anthem protests are not an issue.

The foremost reason for the NFL ratings drop is lopsided games. Even when the games are competitive, there is very little consistent action. Why is this?  Money. Owners don't want to see high-priced quarterbacks taking unnecessary risks. The best game I saw on Sunday was Houston-New England because Texans rookie QB Deshaun Watson played with abandon.

As for secondary and tertiary causes of the ratings drop, I think the incessant militarism of NFL telecasts and the deepening knowledge, both popular and scientific, of CTE are bigger reasons than an offended patriotism.

Trump is a shrewd operator. He thinks by fracturing the present-day foundation of American national identity he will make some political hay. Patrick Martin of World Socialist Web Site ("Behind Trump’s attack on the NFL football players") sees Trump producing a "Reichstag fire":
Under conditions of mounting war threats against North Korea; the devastation of Puerto Rico, a US territory, by Hurricane Maria; and the near-collapse of the latest attempt by the Republican-controlled Congress to repeal Obamacare, the US president devoted 12 tweets in 30 hours to the observance of the national anthem at sporting events. No other event warranted such attention.
What took place last weekend arose from a deliberate decision by the president of the United States to weigh in against a long-running campaign of protest against police brutality and violence, especially against African-American youth. Trump sought to provoke as much outrage as possible, particularly among the black athletes, who comprise 75 percent of NFL teams, and in that way arouse his ultra-right and fascistic social base.
Trump does not care that his positions are massively unpopular, or that the players have widespread support. He is not seeking to assemble an electoral or parliamentary majority, but to whip up a lynch-mob atmosphere within a minority of the population, which can be directed towards the violent suppression of any public opposition to the policies of his government, and particularly against opposition to the actions of the police and military.
Trump’s last tweet on Monday morning was perhaps the most brazenly racist, as he hailed the performance of NASCAR race drivers, nearly all white, contrasting the absence of protests at Sunday’s race in New Hampshire to the actions of football players, who protested in large numbers at 15 game sites.
This isn't 1933. Trump isn't the president of the Confederate States of America. Going after the NFL was a big mistake. At this point -- four autumns before the next presidential election -- I think Trump is doomed.

Monday, September 25, 2017

German Elections Bad News for Neoliberals

The consensus in the mainstream press is that Angela Merkel is, in the Age of Trump, the leader of the Western neoliberal world order. Her reelection was a foregone conclusion. Stories in the run up to Sunday's vote usually mentioned -- as an afterthought -- that Germany's far-right party, Alternative for Germany (AfD), would enter parliament, the first ultra-nationalist party to do so since the defeat of the Third Reich, but that it was not much of a concern since its momentum had been zapped by Merkel's shrewd swing to the right on immigration.

Well, that's not how things turned out. Yes, Merkel triumphed, but her Christian Democrats fell significantly short of their performance four years ago, as did their coalition partner Social Democrats; add to this AfD's arrival as the third-largest party in parliament, and what you get is a lot of neoliberal hand-wringing this morning, captured by Stephen Erlanger and Melissa Eddy in "Angela Merkel Makes History in German Vote, but So Does Far Right":
The far-right party, Alternative for Germany, or AfD, got some 13 percent of the vote — nearly three times the 4.7 percent it received in 2013 — a significant showing of voter anger over immigration and inequality as support for the two main parties sagged from four years ago.
Ms. Merkel and her center-right Christian Democrats won, the center held, but it was weakened. The results made clear that far-right populism — and anxieties over security and national identity — were far from dead in Europe.
They also showed that Germany’s mainstream parties were not immune to the same troubles that have afflicted mainstream parties across the Continent, from Italy to France to Britain.
“We expected a better result, that is clear,” Ms. Merkel said Sunday night. “The good thing is that we will definitely lead the next government.” 
Ms. Merkel’s conservative bloc won some 32.9 percent of the vote, sharply down from 41.5 percent in 2013, the early results showed.
The Social Democrats slumped to 20.8 percent, a new postwar low, down from 25.7 percent four years ago.
If the Social Democrats hold to their intention to go into opposition, Ms. Merkel will be faced with an unusually difficult task to form a working coalition. Given the numbers, it would seem that she will have to cobble together her own Christian Democrat-Christian Social Union bloc together with two other parties.
The potential new partners inhabit virtually opposite poles on the political spectrum — the pro-business Free Democrats, who won some 10.4 percent of the vote, and the left-leaning pro-environment Greens, who won about 9 percent.
At the Christian Democrat headquarters, Frank Wexler, a Berliner, called the results “a bit depressing.”
Grand coalitions had allowed the small parties to gain ground, he said. “The main parties are getting smaller,” Mr. Wexler said. To counteract the AfD, he said, “We need to address the issue of strengthening the borders.”
But Mr. Wexler said he was most disturbed by the AfD’s hostility to the European Union. “This is what Germany needs to do — be a strong leader in Europe.”
But Hans Kundnani, an expert on Germany with the German Marshall Fund, said that Ms. Merkel might fail to create the three-party coalition, putting the Social Democrats under great pressure to join another coalition rather than forcing new elections.
To Mr. Kundnani, “the big shock is not the AfD,” but the loss of support for Ms. Merkel’s conservatives and the increasing fragmentation of German political life.
Moon of Alabama sees new elections in two years. Merkel has spent too much time hovering in the center and with this election she has been flanked on the right.

In the latest London Review of Books, Thomas Meany has a strong article, "In the Centre of the Centre," on the state of German politics on the eve of the election. While he didn't predict the result, I think he nails the inherent weakness of Merkel's centrism:
Many leftists and Greens, disillusioned with their own party leaders, have been stunned by Merkel’s modernisation of the CDU and her steadfastness in the first months of the refugee crisis. Too stunned, perhaps, to notice that her trick is to avoid the country’s root problems while treating the symptoms more skilfully than any conservative politician before her has ever managed. The media, meanwhile, unwilling to address the difficulties caused by Germany’s position as the reluctant hegemon of the Continent, or the growing sense of lurking inconsistencies in the gospel of Atlanticism, prefer endless celebration of the leader: the intellectual, strong, patient, grounded, wry, compassionate, tough, reality-grasping, scientific, opera-loving, Bismarckian wunder-Kanzlerin on whom nothing is lost. One of the few things the mainstream press holds against her is that she doesn’t campaign in a way that generates copy; others dislike the way she has so thoroughly depoliticised the country.
AfD's hostility to the European Union and the eurozone is an existential threat to Germany's economic hegemony. As Wolfgang Streek made clear in a piece, "Playing Catch Up," published in May --
With monetary union set up as it is, and the path to political union foreclosed not only by member states but also by their peoples, the Merkel government, like previous German governments, has only one suggestion to offer the rest of Europe: that each country catch up with Germany by subjecting itself to its own second round of capitalist transformation – ‘structural reforms’ involving the replacement of traditional forms of social solidarity with market competition and, perhaps at some later date, the embedding of competition in modern institutions of solidarity, like the welfare state and collective bargaining. For this to happen, willing governments must be kept in power, if need be through discreet suspension of democracy, since resistance to the treatment is growing on a broad front. Here, as so often in her long career, Merkel is anything but dogmatic, and certainly isn’t beholden to ordoliberal orthodoxy since what is at stake is Germany’s most precious historical achievement, secure access to foreign markets at a low and stable exchange rate. For several years now, Berlin has allowed the European Central Bank under Draghi and the European Commission under Juncker to invent ever new ways of circumventing the Maastricht treaties, from financing government deficits to subsidising ailing banks. None of this has done anything to resolve the fundamental structural problems of the Eurozone. What it has done is what it was intended to do: buy time, from election to election, for European governments to carry out neoliberal reforms, and for Germany to enjoy yet another year of prosperity.
My preoccupation -- I think about this constantly, and have for years -- is how much longer can this political-economic system stumble forward? So many times it appears on the verge of collapse, yet it always manages somehow to stay upright. Has history truly ended or are we finally witnessing the birth of a new era?

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Trump Goes 100% Dixiecrat: Dems Should Nominate LeBron James in 2020

Trump's political formula is to maintain a hard-shell lily-white, white-supremacist base at all costs. Attacking NFL and NBA stars will simultaneously solidify that base while expanding his opponents core of support.

Ken Belson and Julie Hirschfeld Davis report in "Trump Attacks Warriors’ Curry. LeBron James’s Retort: ‘U Bum’" that
President Trump took aim at two of the world’s most powerful sports leagues and some of their most popular athletes, directly inserting himself into an already fiery debate over race, social justice and athlete activism and stoking a running battle on social media over his comments.
In a speech on Friday and a series of tweets on Saturday, he urged N.F.L. owners to fire players who do not stand for the national anthem, suggested that football is declining because it is not as violent as it once was and seemed to disinvite the N.B.A. champion Golden State Warriors from the traditional White House visit because of their star player Stephen Curry’s public opposition to him.
Speaking in Huntsville, Ala., on Friday, the president used an expletive to describe players who kneel or sit during the anthem to protest police brutality against black Americans and other forms of social injustice.
“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these N.F.L. owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out, he’s fired,’ ” the president said at a rally for Senator Luther Strange, who was appointed to the Senate this year and is facing Roy Moore in a Republican primary runoff.
While many fans on social media were supportive of the president, the reaction from many athletes was immediate and impassioned, particularly among African-American football and basketball players who have criticized Mr. Trump on race. Many, including LeBron James, among the best-known athletes in the country, denounced the president.
“U bum @StephenCurry30 already said he ain’t going! So therefore ain’t no invite. Going to White House was a great honor until you showed up!” Mr. James wrote on Twitter.
Mr. James later elaborated in a video on Instagram.
Once again, the only reason a Dixiecrat resides in the White House 70 years after Strom Thurmond won four Dixie states in the 1948 presidential race is the Democrats' continued commitment to a zombie neoliberalism. If the party were to run LeBron James on a progressive platform in 2020, the Dixiecrats would be buried in a landslide.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Referendums on Independence for Catalonia and Iraqi Kurdistan

UPDATE: Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's move to arrest Catalan officials is being panned. See Raphael Minder's "Catalonia Showdown Tests Spanish Leader’s Instinct for Survival." According to polls the independence referendum was headed for defeat. But those polls were conducted before the arrests. I suppose Rajoy wanted to look tough for his conservative base; plus, post-Brexit and post-Trump, who can bank on opinion polling anymore?


The independence referendum for Iraqi Kurdistan is Monday. The Catalan independence referendum is the following Sunday, October 1. Spanish police are raiding offices of the Catalan regional government, arresting its officials, while in Erbil, high-priced American advisers are holding court. Quite a contrast, but also a clear signal of the likely results.

In "As Catalonia Referendum Nears, Tensions Rise in Spain," Raphael Minder reports from Madrid that
With the backing of the constitutional court, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has been stepping up efforts to prevent the referendum, scheduled for Oct. 1.
The police raided the offices of the Catalan regional government early Wednesday and arrested at least 14 people, including Josep Maria Jové, secretary general of economic affairs. The arrests were not expected, but hundreds of mayors and other officials in Catalonia had been warned that they would be indicted if they helped organize a referendum in violation of Spanish law.
Hundreds of supporters of Catalan independence immediately took to the streets of Barcelona to protest the arrests. Jordi Sanchez, the leader of one of the region’s biggest separatist associations, used Twitter to urge Catalansto “resist peacefully,” but also to “come out and defend our institutions.”
Speaking before the national Parliament, Mr. Rajoy defended the detentions and accused separatist politicians of promoting civil disobedience and escalating the conflict, using methods he described as “profoundly antidemocratic.” [!]
Madrid seized control of Catalonia’s finances this week, seeking to ensure that separatist politicians could not spend further public funds on the referendum. Under the guidance of public prosecutors and Spanish judges, the police conducted raids across Catalonia to confiscate ballots and campaign materials from printing shops and delivery companies. Spain’s judiciary has also taken measures to stop advertisements related to the referendum in the news media.
Still, the Catalan government says it can hold the vote, and recently announced that it had stored about 6,000 ballot boxes in a secret location.
“The referendum will be held and is already organized,” Mr. Romeva said. “Clearly the conditions in which it will be celebrated are not those that we wished for.”
As the referendum date nears, Mr. Rajoy, who leads a minority government, finds himself under increasing pressure in Madrid to explain how the conflict over possible Catalan secession spun out of control.
Recent opinion polls have shown support for Catalan independence waning, but they also show that most people in the region want the right to vote on Catalonia’s future.
Catalonia is led by a fragile coalition, and its government has struggled to maintain unity at times as it pursues a unilateral path toward independence. On Wednesday, Miquel Iceta, the leader of the Socialist Party of Catalonia, called on the regional government to abandon plans for the October referendum and stop fueling a secessionist conflict, “which will lead us all toward disaster.”

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Graham-Cassidy: One More Attempt to Gut Medicaid

UPDATE: There has been a lot of good reporting on the impact of Graham-Cassidy. "How the Latest Obamacare Repeal Plan Would Work" by Reed Abelson and Margot Sanger-Katz explains how Medicaid would be fundamentally altered:
Like several earlier Republican health bills, this one would also change the structure of the 52-year-old Medicaid program, which even before Obamacare’s expansion to poor adults in many states covered tens of millions of vulnerable Americans, including poor children, older Americans in nursing homes, adults with disabilities, and many pregnant women. The program currently pays for 49 percent of all births and 64 percent of all nursing home residents’ bills.
The Graham-Cassidy bill moves funding for the Medicaid expansion population into the state block grant. It would also convert the rest of the program from an open-ended commitment of paying a share of those people’s medical bills to a capped allotment for each person every year, set to grow by a fixed amount. Independent analysts have said that the change would cause substantial shifts in financial responsibility to states, ultimately leading to reductions in benefits or in the number of Americans covered by Medicaid over time.
That was published Wednesday. Yesterday there was "Latest Obamacare Repeal Effort Is Most Far-Reaching" by Kate Zernike, Abelson and Abby Goodnough:
For decades, Republicans have dreamed of taking some of the vast sums the federal government spends on health care entitlements and handing the money over to states to use as they saw best.
Now, in an 11th-hour effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act, the party has come up with a way to repackage the funding for the law it loathes into a trillion-dollar pot of state grants.
The plan is at the core of the bill that Senate Republican leaders have vowed to bring to a vote next week. It was initially seen as a long-shot effort by Senators Lindsey Graham and Bill Cassidy. But for all its ad hoc, last-minute feel, it has evolved into the most far-reaching repeal proposal of all.
It dismantles the Medicaid expansion and the system of subsidies to help people afford insurance. It gives the states the right to waive many of the consumer protections under President Obama’s landmark health law. And it removes the guaranteed safety net that has insured the country’s poorest citizens for more than half a century.
“This is by far the most radical of any of the Republican health care bills that have been debated this year,” said Larry Levitt, a senior vice president with the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation. “And the reason for that is that this would be the biggest devolution of federal money and responsibility to the states for anything, ever.”

The reanimation of Trumpcare in the form of the Graham-Cassidy bill is one last attempt to gut Medicaid before the rule allowing heath-care legislation to pass by simple majority expires at the end of next week. Graham-Cassidy would take the Obamacare money and block grant it back to the states; it would also block grant Medicaid, at the same time it ends the Obamacare expansion of the program. According to Robert Pear and Thomas Kaplan in "Republican Leaders Defy Bipartisan Opposition to Health Law Repeal":
Besides creating block grants, the Graham-Cassidy bill would make deep cuts in Medicaid. It would end the expansion of eligibility under the Affordable Care Act, which has provided Medicaid coverage to 13 million people. And it would put the entire program, which serves more than 70 million people, on a budget, ending the open-ended entitlement that exists. States would instead receive a per-beneficiary allotment of federal money.
Republicans were trying desperately to round up votes for the Graham-Cassidy bill before the end of next week, when the measure will lose the procedural protection that allows it to pass with a simple majority, rather than the 60 votes that would otherwise be required.
While Republicans like the idea of federalism and block grants, many wanted to know how their states would be affected. Under the legislation, states with high health care costs — especially if they expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act — would generally lose money, while low-cost states that did not expand Medicaid would gain.
The Republican governors who signed the letter opposing the latest Republican repeal plan were John R. Kasich of Ohio, Brian Sandoval of Nevada, Charlie Baker of Massachusetts and Phil Scott of Vermont.
Two other Republican governors, Mr. Sununu and Larry Hogan of Maryland, expressed similar concerns in separate statements.
“The Graham-Cassidy bill is not a solution that works for Maryland,” Mr. Hogan said. “It will cost our state over $2 billion annually while directly jeopardizing the health care of our citizens.”
Mr. Graham and Mr. Cassidy have cited Maryland as a state that, in their view, has been receiving more than its fair share of money under the Affordable Care Act.
Mr. Sununu said he could not support the Graham-Cassidy proposal because “New Hampshire could possibly lose over $1 billion in Medicaid funding between 2020 and 2026.” He said such a cost shift would be a particular problem for his state because “New Hampshire is proud of its tradition of not having an income tax or sales tax.”
Rand Paul and Susan Collins have already signaled "No" votes. This means that it is up to Lisa Murkowski to scuttle the bill, which shouldn't be a problem for a politician who won a general election to the U.S. Senate as a write-in.

Can there be a bigger whore than Lindsey Graham? In criticizing Trumpcare, he postured and preened as a defender of moderation and fairness, only to end up voting for it in a losing effort. Now he is actually sponsoring a new version of Trumpcare. That bitch Graham will do anything for a buck.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

U.S. Holocaust Museum Pulls Report on Syria

The United States is so wedded to "humanitarian bombing," more commonly referred to as R2P, that an innocuous academic study, which gamed out alternative approaches to the war in Syria, commissioned by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum was pulled after it was published online at the end of August. 

The study was pulled not because it was pro- or anti-Obama; the study was pulled because it failed to categorically endorse the use of military force to decapitate a "rogue" regime.

The story by Sopan Deb and Max Fisher, "The Holocaust Museum Sought Lessons on Syria. What It Got Was a Political Backlash," is worth reading. The use of massive military force to eliminate bogeymen inflated by Western propaganda cannot be questioned:
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is finding itself in an unfamiliar position: as a lightning rod for the fierce debate over the Obama administration’s role in the Syrian civil war.
The museum is facing withering criticism after pulling a study that it commissioned on Syria and published online Aug. 29. The report examined whether alternate strategies could have lessened the bloodshed, now in its sixth year.
Museum leaders and the study’s authors had sought lessons on how a future president could mitigate similar crises. Though the authors found much to dislike in President Obama’s decisions on Syria, they also concluded that no single American action would have guaranteed a significant reduction in the violence there.
Critics of the study have portrayed that conclusion as an attempt to let Mr. Obama off the hook for the killings in Syria — a weighty charge for the Holocaust museum to confront, given that it is a moral force on issues of war, mass killings and government intervention. The museum ultimately pulled down the study after receiving complaints from allies.
Since then, the museum has been caught in a political debate and faced questions about academic freedom and the board’s ties to the Obama administration.
Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa divisions, said in an email that she was “disappointed” that the museum withdrew the research.
The study “revealed through rigorous inquiry just how difficult it is to be certain that military intervention will do more good than harm in dynamics as complex as Syria’s,” Ms. Whitson said, “especially when you factor in the disastrous U.S. record for military intervention in the region.”

Monday, September 18, 2017

The Korean War and NSC-68

From this morning's Situation Report:
Show of force. There was some international cooperation on Sunday, when U.S., South Korean, and Japanese warplanes staged a major show of force over the Korean peninsula, releasing live weapons during a joint training exercise. The flight was “in response to North Korea’s launch of an intermediate range ballistic missile over Japan on September 14,” according to a statement from the U.S. Pacific Command. The mission included two B-1B Lancer bombers, four U.S. Marine Corps F-35B Lightnings, four South Korean F-15K fighters, and four Japanese F-2 fighters.
“North Korea will be destroyed.” The exercise came hours after U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley warned Sunday that if Pyongyang continues with its nuclear and ballistic missile tests, “North Korea will be destroyed. And we all know that. And none of us want that. None of us want war...we’re trying every other possibility that we have, but there’s a whole lot of military options on the table."
Haley later told CNN that if the Washington exhausts its diplomatic options on North Korea, the U.S. military would “take care of it.” Haley continued, “We wanted to be responsible and go through all diplomatic means to get their attention first. If that doesn't work, General Mattis will take care of it.”
It is unclear what the point is of all these bellicose U.S. threats -- Proving credibility to allies? Instigating a war with North Korea? The U.S. military failed to "take care of it" 65 years ago; its track record since has not been anything to boast about.

I'm reading Nemesis: Truman and Johnson in the Coils of War in Asia (1984) by former Los Angeles Times Washington Bureau Chief  Robert J. Donovan. It is a mainstream history that hews closely to the "U.S. are the good guys" perspective. I thought it would be interesting to read a political history of the Korean and Vietnam wars written at a time before neoconservative revisionism clamped down on discourse.

One interesting, if not original, insight Donovan has is that the Korean War was key to enshrining the huge military budgets and perpetual war footing of the Cold War. Truman had been sitting on NSC-68 for months. Once hostilities broke out on the Korean Peninsula in June of 1950, adoption of NSC-68 became a fait accompli.

Since a militarized Cold War can be traced back to the Korean War, it is interesting now that we are in an era of a New Cold War, that the womb of the Old Cold War appears to be gestating. This bodes ill for Pax Americana.

For an excellent primer on the ignominious history of U.S. relations with North Korea read "End the 67-year war" by Robert Alvarez.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The Lunacy of U.S. Foreign Policy

For a snapshot of the lunacy of U.S. foreign policy, consult this morning's Situation Report by Paul McLeary and Adam Rawnsley:
On the road. Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David M. Satterfield is on the way to Astana, Kazakhstan to observe the next round of Astana Process talks on Syria. The State Department “remains concerned with Iran’s involvement as a so-called ‘guarantor’ of the Astana process,” the department said in a statement Tuesday. “Iran’s activities in Syria and unquestioning support for the Assad regime have perpetuated the conflict and increased the suffering of ordinary Syrians.”
Sanctions. The United Nations unanimously passed a new round of sanctions on North Korea but Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin is warning China that the U.S. won't ease up the pressure after they passed. "We will put additional sanctions on [China] and prevent them from accessing the U.S. and international dollar system" if they don't enforce the latest sanctions, Mnuchin told reporters. 
Phase four. Al Monitor reporter Laura Rozen tweeted Tuesday night that she's heard Trump administration-affiliated think tanks are working on strategies on how to deal with insurgencies in North Korea in the aftermath of a potential war.  
It's war all the time for the United States. Unable to admit defeat and acknowledge reality, all the U.S. can do is wage war perpetually. There is a limit to such a strategy. When will it be reached? Possibly the Korean Peninsula.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

NFL Week 1 + Votes in Germany, Kurdistan and Catalonia

The first week of the National Football League regular season wrapped up last night. I didn't see the Monday night games, but I watched all Sunday. My big takeaway is this -- In terms of a unifying story all we have in the United States is the promotion of consumption.

Who knows how long it has been that way? An argument can be made that once a majoritarian belief in "American Exceptionalism" (the Reagan version, the one concocted out of the ashes of the '60s cultural revolution) started to significantly erode with the invasion of Iraq, all we were left with were the myriad car, smartphone, bank, fast food, insurance company, et cetera commercials.

That's why the National Football League is so important. It is the only reliable conveyor belt left for corporate-managed consumption, for the mythology of consumption. The media environment is splintering, while surveillance increases, in the age of the smartphone, but broadcast television maintains a form of regency thanks to the popularity of the National Football League.


Some tricky votes are headed our way in the next few weeks. Not Germany's election on Sunday, September 24. Merkel is coasting to reelection. As noted in Millie Tran's "Need to Catch Up on the German Election? Here’s a Guide":
Jochen Bittner, political editor for the German weekly Die Zeit and a contributing Op-Ed writer for The Times, offered his take on why this election is not making as big a splash as its predecessors this year in Europe. He describes “mass resignation” among an electorate that has “accepted the fact that the country’s national politics are locked in place by a centrist consensus that gives them little choice at the ballot box.”
This of course is the goal of neoliberalism -- "mass resignation" -- the idea being that public policy and government should be left to corporate technocrats who will work tirelessly to redistribute wealth forever upward and automate the masses into obsolescence.

A day after the election in Germany comes the vote for Kurdish independence from Iraq. Tim Arango's "For Iraq’s Long-Suffering Kurds, Independence Beckons" is a sympathetic account of the referendum without any basic information on what is broadly accepted as a power play by president of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, and longtime autocrat of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, Masoud Barzani. None of the neighboring countries support the independence vote, nor does, at least publicly, the Iraqi Kurds' main patron, the United States. But dismemberment of Iraq has been the U.S. goal, and the goal of Saudi Arabia, since the U.S. lost the war there under George W. Bush. The caliphate might be gone, but its raison d'être lives on with an independent Kurdistan.

Raphael Minder's "Catalonia Independence Bid Pushes Spain Toward Crisis" had not one sympathetic thing to say about the pro-independence movement centered in Barcelona, though there is every indication that it has as much popular support as anything happening in Erbil. The vote is scheduled for October 1, assuming Madrid doesn't somehow sabotage it.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Click Bots are Not a Russian Creation

The latest salvo in the New Cold War with Russia is a story published last week by veteran investigative reporter Scott Shane. In "The Fake Americans Russia Created to Influence the Election" Shane argues that
The Russian information attack on the election did not stop with the hacking and leaking of Democratic emails or the fire hose of stories, true, false and in between, that battered Mrs. Clinton on Russian outlets like RT and Sputnik. Far less splashy, and far more difficult to trace, was Russia’s experimentation on Facebook and Twitter, the American companies that essentially invented the tools of social media and, in this case, did not stop them from being turned into engines of deception and propaganda.
What Shane uncovers is a minute number of fake accounts allegedly linked to a Kremlin-connected company:
An investigation by The New York Times, and new research from the cybersecurity firm FireEye, reveals some of the mechanisms by which suspected Russian operators used Twitter and Facebook to spread anti-Clinton messages and promote the hacked material they had leaked. On Wednesday, Facebook officials disclosed that they had shut down several hundred accounts that they believe were created by a Russian company linked to the Kremlin and used to buy $100,000 in ads pushing divisive issues during and after the American election campaign.
“We know we have to stay vigilant to keep ahead of people who try to misuse our platform,” Alex Stamos, Facebook’s chief security officer, wrote on Wednesday in a post about the Russia-linked fake accounts and ads. “We believe in protecting the integrity of civic discourse.”
Critics say that because shareholders judge the companies partly based on a crucial data point — “monthly active users” — they are reluctant to police their sites too aggressively for fear of reducing that number. The companies use technical tools and teams of analysts to detect bogus accounts, but the scale of the sites — 328 million users on Twitter, nearly two billion on Facebook — means they often remove impostors only in response to complaints.
Though both companies have been slow to grapple with the problem of manipulation, they have stepped up efforts to purge fake accounts. Facebook says it takes down a million accounts a day — including some that were related to the recent French election and upcoming German voting — but struggles to keep up with the illicit activity. Still, the company says the abuse affects only a small fraction of the social network; Facebook officials estimated that of all the “civic content” posted on the site in connection with the United States election, less than one-tenth of one percent resulted from “information operations” like the Russian campaign.
Twitter, unlike Facebook, does not require the use of a real name and does not prohibit automated accounts, arguing that it seeks to be a forum for open debate. But it constantly updates a “trends” list of most-discussed topics or hashtags, and it says it tries to foil attempts to use bots to create fake trends. However, FireEye found that the suspected Russian bots sometimes managed to do just that, in one case causing the hashtag #HillaryDown to be listed as a trend.
 As Moon of Alabama posted last week, "How $100,000 of unspecific advertisement would influence an election in which more than $1 billion was spend on political ads is unexplained." MoA points out that the "Russians did it!" is a diversion from the larger story of the fraudulent advertising sales that form the foundation of Facebook's business. John Lanchester discussed this in a lengthy article, "You Are the Product," devoted to Facebook which appeared this summer in the London Review of Books:
Facebook seems vulnerable to these disenchantment effects. One place they are likely to begin is in the core area of its business model – ad-selling. The advertising it sells is ‘programmatic’, i.e. determined by computer algorithms that match the customer to the advertiser and deliver ads accordingly, via targeting and/or online auctions. The problem with this from the customer’s point of view – remember, the customer here is the advertiser, not the Facebook user – is that a lot of the clicks on these ads are fake. There is a mismatch of interests here. Facebook wants clicks, because that’s how it gets paid: when ads are clicked on. But what if the clicks aren’t real but are instead automated clicks from fake accounts run by computer bots? This is a well-known problem, which particularly affects Google, because it’s easy to set up a site, allow it to host programmatic ads, then set up a bot to click on those ads, and collect the money that comes rolling in. On Facebook the fraudulent clicks are more likely to be from competitors trying to drive each others’ costs up.
The industry publication Ad Week estimates the annual cost of click fraud at $7 billion, about a sixth of the entire market. One single fraud site, Methbot, whose existence was exposed at the end of last year, uses a network of hacked computers to generate between three and five million dollars’ worth of fraudulent clicks every day. Estimates of fraudulent traffic’s market share are variable, with some guesses coming in at around 50 per cent; some website owners say their own data indicates a fraudulent-click rate of 90 per cent. This is by no means entirely Facebook’s problem, but it isn’t hard to imagine how it could lead to a big revolt against ‘ad tech’, as this technology is generally known, on the part of the companies who are paying for it. I’ve heard academics in the field say that there is a form of corporate groupthink in the world of the big buyers of advertising, who are currently responsible for directing large parts of their budgets towards Facebook. That mindset could change. Also, many of Facebook’s metrics are tilted to catch the light at the angle which makes them look shiniest. A video is counted as ‘viewed’ on Facebook if it runs for three seconds, even if the user is scrolling past it in her news feed and even if the sound is off. Many Facebook videos with hundreds of thousands of ‘views’, if counted by the techniques that are used to count television audiences, would have no viewers at all.
To single out Russia in all of this is absurd. Click bots are everywhere. The problem is not a Russian one. Shane's story received prominent placement on the front page of The New York Times; the Equifax hack, a much bigger story, got bottom of the fold.

At least Shane acknowledges that who gets labeled a "Russian troll" is often a regular Russophile citizen:
“Yes, the Russians were involved. Yes, there’s a lot of organic support for Trump,” said Andrew Weisburd, an Illinois online researcher who has written frequently about Russian influence on social media. “Trying to disaggregate the two was difficult, to put it mildly.”
Mr. Weisburd said he had labeled some Twitter accounts “Kremlin trolls” based simply on their pro-Russia tweets and with no proof of Russian government ties. The Times contacted several such users, who insisted that they had come by their anti-American, pro-Russian views honestly, without payment or instructions from Moscow.
“Hillary’s a warmonger,” said Marilyn Justice, 66, who lives in Nova Scotia and tweets as @mkj1951. Of Mr. Putin, she said in an interview, “I think he’s very patient in the face of provocations.”
Ms. Justice said she had first taken an interest in Russia during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, while looking for hockey coverage and finding what she considered a snide anti-Russia bias in the Western media. She said she did get a lot of news from Sputnik and RT but laughed at the notion that she could have Kremlin connections.
Another of the so-called Kremlin trolls, Marcel Sardo, 48, a web producer in Zurich, describes himself bluntly on his Twitter bio as a “Pro-Russia Media-Sniper.” He said he shared notes daily via Skype and Twitter with online acquaintances, including Ms. Justice, on disputes between Russia and the West over who shot down the Malaysian airliner hit by a missile over Ukraine and who used sarin gas in Syria.
“It’s a battle of information, and I and my peers have decided to take sides,” said Mr. Sardo, who constantly cites Russian sources and bashed Mrs. Clinton daily during the campaign. But he denied he had any links to the Russian government.
 The important thing to remember is that the New Cold War is an effort to occlude the collapse of support for neoliberalism, the governing dogma of mainstream political parties. It is a ham-handed attempt meant to freeze the free fall of the political order.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Trump's Dead End

Today is one of those rare occasions when the editorial page of The New York Times is in agreement with the World Socialist Web Site. Donald Trump's flailing response to North Korea's missile tests and Sunday's detonation of a nuclear device is the agent of unification.

In "An Incoherent Strategy on North Korea" the NYT discards the conventional Western portrayal of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un as an insane, power-hungry despot:
North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, is certainly playing a dangerous game; Nikki Haley, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, warned Monday that Mr. Kim is “begging for war.” But unless he is completely deranged he must know that war with the United States would be suicide. He seems to regard nuclear weapons as his only guarantee of survival in the face of American hostility.
He has reason to worry: Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, the Libyan leader, gave up his nascent nuclear program in 2003 in return for promises of economic integration with the West. But when rebels rose up against him, he was bombed by the United States and its allies, then executed by rebels.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have insisted that the United States is not aiming for regime change. But it could be doing considerably more to lower the temperature and lead the way to a more peaceful solution. On Sunday, Mr. Mattis seemed intent on doing just the opposite, promising a “massive military response” in return for “any threat” — not just an attack but the threat of an attack — against the United States; its territories, like Guam; or its allies. And while Mr. Mattis and Mr. Tillerson have both hinted at dialogue with the North, Mr. Trump tweeted that “talking is not the answer!”
The Times editorial writer might have lifted this notion of the influential nature of Qaddafi's downfall on North Korea's commitment to its nuclear and ballistic missile program from none other than Vladimir Putin. According to WSWS's Alex Lantier in "Danger of global war over Korea shakes Europe":
Speaking at the BRICS (Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa) summit in Xiamen, China, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that aggressive action by the United States and its allies against North Korea could lead to world war: “Ramping up military hysteria in such conditions is senseless; it’s a dead end. It could lead to a global, planetary catastrophe and a huge loss of human life. There is no other way to solve the North Korean nuclear issue, save that of peaceful dialogue.”
Putin made clear that Pyongyang’s reckless pursuit of its nuclear weapons program is a desperate attempt to deter an attack like the 2003 US war of aggression against Iraq or the 2011 NATO war in Libya, in which European powers including France and Britain played leading roles in launching.
He said, “We all remember what happened with Iraq and Saddam Hussein. His children were killed, I think his grandson was shot, the whole country was destroyed and Saddam Hussein was hanged ... We all know how this happened, and people in North Korea remember well what happened in Iraq. They will eat grass but will not stop their program as long as they do not feel safe.”
Everyone is calling for talks except Trump, who is acting as if this is nothing more than a hard-nosed Manhattan real estate deal (with nuclear weapons added). Stock indexes are beginning to factor in the volatility of the situation.

The Saker, in a post, "Make no mistake, the latest US thuggery is a sign of weakness, not strength," devoted to the recent U.S. "raids" on the Russian Consulate in San Francisco and the Russian diplomatic annexes in Washington and New York, captures how bizarre and out of control the situation has become:
This is also really scary. The combination of, on one hand, spineless subservience to the Neocons with intellectual mediocrity, a gross lack of professionalism and the kind of petty thuggery normally associated with street gangs and, on the other hand, nuclear weapons is very scary. In the mean time, the other nuclear armed crazies have just declared that they have a thermonuclear device which they apparently tested yesterday just to show their contempt for Trump and his general minions. I don’t think that they have a hydrogen bomb. I don’t think that they have a real ICBM. I don’t even think that they have real (usable) nuclear warheads. But what if I am wrong? What if they did get a lot of what they claim to have today – such as rocket engines – from the Ukies?
In one corner, the Outstanding Leader, Brilliant Comrade, Young Master and Great Successor, Kim Jong-un and on the other, The Donald, Grab them by the xxxxx and Make ‘Merica Great, the Grand Covfefe Donald Trump. Both armed with nukes.
Scary, scary shit. Really scary.
But even more scary and depressing is that the stronger man of the two is beyond any doubt Kim Jong-un.
All I see in the White House are vacancy signs.
Against the nearly universal call for talks, the neocon hive mind, as well as South Korean President Moon Jai-in, has settled on the idea of increased sanctions targeting Chinese oil sales and Chinese banks. This is no golden-ticket solution because China has ample representation in the United States Government. Chimerica is real.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

No is Not Enough

I spent the holiday weekend reading Naomi Klein's latest book, No is Not Enough. It is good, better I think than This Changes Everything.

No is Not Enough argues that we can't simply vote out Trump, replace him with a neoliberal Democrat and expect all to be well. We need to start articulating utopian manifestos, which Klein did in Canada with the Leap Manifesto.

Klein seems hopeful that a progressive political movement is on the verge of taking power. She points to the surprising performances of Bernie Sanders and Jean-Luc Mélenchon as proof.

But what is surprising to me is the recent success of a zombie neoliberalism in France where Macron has successfully pared back the Code du Travail in favor of business. The change is being sold as necessary to reduce unemployment, but the result will be an increase in inequality. Yesterday on the op-ed page of The New York Times two academics argued for industry-wide pattern bargaining as a way to address endemic income inequality in the United States, the very fix that Macron just eliminated in French labor law.

With Merkel headed for a fourth term, the neoliberal world order that seemed headed for the dustbin last year plods on. I hope Klein is right that a huge progressive, socialist movement is being born. But my sense is that the shocks that neoliberalism uses to expand its control of the public sphere are going to have to become so severe that they exceed the ability of the political order to manage them.

So to answer the question, Socialism or barbarism? I think to get to socialism things are first going to have to become even more barbaric.