Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Graham-Cassidy: One More Attempt to Gut Medicaid

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.
[snip] 
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.
[snip]
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.
[snip]
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.
[snip]
“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.