Tuesday, November 24, 2015

New government for Portugal

Portuguese President Aníbal Cavaco Silva has designated Socialist Party leader António Costa as Prime Minister (PS). (La hora de los socialistas en Portugal Página/12 24.11.2015; São José Almeida, Governo de combate político coloca Assuntos Europeus no MNE Público.pt 24.11.2015

Portugal's political turmoil set to end as Antonio Costa named prime minister Euronews 11/24/2015:

This means that the left majority of PS, the Left Bloc, and Communists is effectively taking power. The actual arrangement is that the Socialists are forming a minority government with the tolerance (as it's called in parliamentary systems) of the other left parties. That means they vote to support the government and Costa as Prime Minister, but don't get ministries.

Andrei Khalip and Axel Bugge report in Socialist Costa to head Portuguese government with uneasy far-left backing Reuters/Yahoo! News:

The Socialist Party (PS) has promised to end years of harsh austerity, increase families' disposable incomes and help the poor, who suffered during Portugal's debt crisis and a bailout that ended last year, while still cutting the deficit in line with Portugal's European commitments.

Together with the far-left Communists and Left Bloc, Costa two weeks ago toppled the minority centre-right coalition that had returned to power after winning most votes in an election on Oct. 4 but losing its overall majority.
Left Bloc deputy Marisa Matias is understandably optimistic about the present moment. She tells an interviewer, "A new Portugal is being born." (Maria João Lopes, “Há um Portugal novo que está a nascer” Público.pt 24.11.2015)

But getting António Costa as Prime Minister is scarcely the storming of the Bastille. Much less the Winter Palace.

The PS has previously supported the EU's (Merkel's) austerity policies in Portugal. It's heartening to see that they are now willing to attempt some kind of pushback. We'll see how it works out.

Digby on the "f-word" (no, the other "f" word)

The "fascism" word is popping up quite a bit in progressive analyses of Donalp Trump and and his followers, some of whom clearly have a neo-Brownshirt.

Digby takes a pass at it in On the "F" word Hullabaloo 11/24/2015

I generally avoid using "fascism" for current groups because defining it does turn out to be very tricky. We can be sure with Mussolini, because he actually called his movement Fascist. There's even a long-running debate in history and political science about whether Hitler's government should be called fascist versus seeing the Nazi regime as a qualitatively different kind of dictatorship. I'm okay with calling it fascist just because that's what most of the world called it at the time.

My own operative definition of fascism is the same as Justice Potter Stewart's famous definition of pornography, "I know it when I see it." And I do see it in Trump's movement.

Bob Kuttner gives it a shot in America's Political Landscape Providing Fresh Soil for Fascism Alternet 11/23/2015.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Argentine Presidential election, the day after

It's a new political day in Argentina. A good one for the oligarchy. For the others, not so much.

Newly-elected President Mauricio Macri is already talking up neoliberal trade agreements and demanding that the Mercosur commercial alliance continue to exclude Venezuela, adding to the latter buzzwords in favor of the rightwing opposition to the government of Nicolás Maduro. (Excluir a Venezuela y converger en la Alianza del Pacífico Página/12 23.11.2015) He also says he wants to put more emphasis on the Alianza del Pacífico, a trade bloc that currently includes only Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru. This set of priorities signals a desire for friendlier relations with the US and Europe.

Macri also indicated he wants to end the agreement with Iran that Cristina Fernández's outgoing government negotiated in pursuit of the still-continuing investigation of the AMIA Jewish Community Center bombing of 1994. (Macri to request AMIA memorandum derogation Buenos Aires Herald 11/23/2015) This seems to be an indication that Macri will further stall that investigation, which has been stalled for far too long.

Macri's expressed desire to devaluate the Argentine peso will be closely watched and speculated about, mentally and financially. He will be inaugurated December 10.

Here are two reports from TV Pública argentina on Macri's electoral victory and his public signals so far about his direction in office.

Visión 7 - Un gabinete económico con seis ministros (1 de 2) 11/23/2015:

Visión 7 - Un gabinete económico con seis ministros (2 de 2) 11/23/2015:

Another interesting development is that Ernesto Sanz, the head of the Unión Cívica Radical (UCR), the main party backing Macri nationally, will not serve in Macri's government. He declined a cabinet position offered by Macri. (Sanz declines Justice minister position Buenos Aires Herald 11/23/2015)

One grim sign of the new times is that on Monday, the day after the election, La Nación, the traditional newspaper (and media group) of the Argentine oligarchy, is running this editorial calling for impunity from prosecution for those who committed crimes during the 1976-83 military dictatorship (murder, torture, kidnapping, etc.): No más venganza 23.11.2015

It says those were "unfortunate actions" but they were fighting TERRORISM aaa-iii-eeee!!! In Argentina, this would be called a "gorila" editorial, definitely not a compliment (also not to be confused with "guerrilla").

Some of the paper's own journalists publicly criticized the editorial. (No más venganza Buenos Aires Herald 11/23/2015)

Also, in a move that sounds a bit ominous to me, Macri said he was going to declare a security emergency, apparently on his first day in office, to "take control of our territory." That's a bit of Trump-like rhetoric, suggestion ludicrously that Argentina today is a failed state. That's just nuts.

This TV Pública argentina report discusses the editorial in La Nación at the first, Visión 7 Resumen - Parte 1 del 23-11-2015 11/23/2015:

The Congress still has a Peronist majority, so they should be able to restrain some of Macri's bad policies.

The TV Pública argentina also discusses the very significant and unusual political situation this election produced in that the same party will control the Presidency, the City of Buenos Aires and the Province of Buenos Aires.

Fernando Cibeira reports on Buenos Aires Province:

Histórico bastión del FpV, en las últimas dos elecciones la provincia de Buenos Aires resultó su talón de Aquiles, justo el distrito que el candidato Daniel Scioli gobernó durante los últimos ocho años.

[The historic bastion of the FpV {the Peronist electoral alliance}, in the last two elections the Province of Buenos Aires turned out to be their Achilles heel, precisely the district the {FpV} candidate Daniel Scioli governed the last eight years.]
Venezuela has national elections on December 6. We'll see if that shows a more conservative voting trend there at well. With Dilma Rousseff in Brazil the target of a serious impeachment drive by the opposition, it's shaping up to be a disappointing year for the left in parts of South America.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Right wins the Argentine Presidency

The Kirchner era (2003-2015) is over. For the time being.

The oligopoly's candidate Mauricio Macri won the Presidential runoff against the Peroist candidate Daniel Scioli, who had served as Governor of Buenos Aires province. The City of Buenos Aires, is where Macri has served as Governor since 2007 with the PRO party, which he founded. He failed in his Presidential challenge to encumbent Cristina Fernández in 2011. But he succeeded this time.

Projections at the time of 51% of the ballots were counted showed a strong win for Macri with 54%, 46% for Scioli. (Macri mantiene la ventaja 22.11.2015)

That same Página/12 article included this Draculaesque photo of Macri:

The Buenos Aires Herald reports with 93% of the returns shows Macri with 52%, Scioli 48%. Cristina has called Macri with her congratulations (CFK calls Macri to congratulate him; they will meet on Tuesday Buenos Aires Herald 11/22/2015)

Scioli has also conceded: Jorge Otaola and Juliana Castilla, Opposition candidate Macri wins Argentina's presidential election Reuters 11/22/2015.

Página/12 profiled the two runoff candidates in Los candidatos en espejo 22.11.2015. The Buenos Aires Herald provides a list of the two candidates' positions in English, Main positions of each candidate 11/22/2015.

Macri is kind of an Argentinian Mitt Rommey, born on third base and thinks he hit a triple. A typical plutocrat, in other words, though the Peronists typically call them oligarchs. In American political vocabulary, underdeveloped countries have "oligarchs," we just have "the wealthy." Or, if you're a Republican, "job creators."

The Miami Herald carries a decent AP article on the election by Peter Prengman, Opposition wins Argentine election, ending ‘Kirchner era’ 11/22/2015 Prengman notes accurately that Cristina "along with her late husband dominated the country’s political scene for 12 years and rewrote its social contract." He doesn't mention that Scioli's defeat will very likely mean that Cristina will start immediately working toward a third term in 2019.

Prengman gives this brief summary of some of Macri's likely economic policies:

Macri, the mayor of Buenos Aires, promised to lift unpopular controls on the buying of U.S. dollars and thus eliminate a booming black market for currency exchange. Doing that would likely lead to a sharp devaluation of the Argentine peso. With low foreign reserves, the government would desperately need an immediate infusion of dollars. Those could come from many different places, but ultimately would require structural changes to a largely protectionist economy, solving the debt spat and developing warmer relations with other nations, including the United States.
In other words, the neoliberal prescription will get yet another test in Argentina.

María Esperanza Casullo describes the rise of the Macri/PRO/Cambiemos coalition in Argentina’s Cambiemos: A party from the elite, by the elite, for the elite? NACLA 11/06/2015:

Last week’s [October 25] election confirmed that there is now a strong center-right party in Argentina. The leadership of that party is decidedly “porteño” in origin, unapologetically pro-market in its ideological orientation, and led by members of the country’s economic elite. What’s more, Macri’s Cambiemos coalition has shown that it has the ability to win votes among the poor on its own.

The election [of October 25] was not good for Peronism. The Peronist candidate, Daniel Scioli, raked in the lowest share for the party since 1983 (37%), while the Cambiemos coalition surprised everyone, obtaining 34% of the national vote. The election in the province of Buenos Aires, which contains 38% of all Argentine voters, included even greater losses for Peronist candidates. Even though the province of Buenos Aires is historically a Peronist stronghold — a non-Peronist governor has not been elected there since 1983 — Cambiemos won the governorship of the province by four points (39% to 35%). In the cities of the province, voters rejected half of the Peronist mayoral incumbents. This included the defeat of a Peronist trade union leader and sitting mayor, Francisco “Barba” Gutiérrez, who lost in the city of Quilmes to a TV chef. Peronism even lost for the very first time in the town of Berisso, nicknamed “the cradle of Peronism.” The first protesters demanding Juan Domingo Perón’s liberation from prison famously marched from Berisso to Buenos Aires in 1945, a moment that is considered the birth of the Peronist movement.

... Both the new governor of Buenos Aires and the Buenos Aires mayor are close allies of Mauricio Macri, having risen to their current positions from within Macri’s own inner circle rather than holding positions of local leadership. Neither of them have their own loyal constituencies and would likely answer to Mauricio Macri in a very direct and vertical manner, should he be elected.
Although Macri's team advocates assistance for the poor and Macri himself made a show of respect for classic Peronism, we can expect a neoliberal/Washington Consensus set of economic policies from his government:

The policy implications of a possible Cambiemos presidency remain difficult to parse. There is no question that most of the economic and policy advisers that the coalition has recruited advocate what political scientists Steven Levitsky and Kenneth Roberts have called “social liberalism” — that is, support for maximum freedom for economic markets and a reduction of state intervention, with the exception of some anti-poverty initiatives. In matters of foreign policy, leaders of Cambiemos have also suggested that they would re-align Argentina toward the United States, and away from Brazil and other South American nations.
Macri has criticized Cristina's governments policy of resisting the ludicrous demands of American vulture funds for repayment of defaulted debt: "a Macri government would almost certainly return Argentina to the capital markets, both settling the bill with the foreign “vulture funds” and using foreign-issued debt as a mechanism to offset the costs of liberalizing the dollar and eliminating soybean export taxes."

Settling on terms favorable to the vultures would in itself be a devastating blow for Argentina's economy. Running up large debts that bring healthy profits to foreign lenders and opportunities for vulture funds has been a hallmark of neoliberal policies in Latin America and elsewhere.

The main face of the vulture funds in the dispute with Argentina has been hedge-fund billionaire Paul Singer, who recently endorsed Mario Rubio for the American Presidency.

I'm thinking I'm hearing from somewhere a song to the tune of the Louvin Brothers' "The Angels Rejoiced Last Night":

Oh, the vulture funds rejoiced in New York last night
I heard Paul Singer praying, Maricio make it right
They were laughing and drinking, with tears in their eyes
'Cause Macri won the vote in Argentina last night

Here's Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell doing the original song:

Shoot, it such a great song, here's another version, Rhonda Vincent and Rebecca Lynn Howard - The Angel's Rejoiced:

The Greatest ISIS Generation?

Generalissimo Tom Brokaw was on Meet the Press this morning describing how the US is at war (aren't we always?) with The Terrorists, ISIS specifically, and explaining how We have to conduct it.

Tom Brokaw on ISIS: "We're at War" 11/22/2015:

And according to him, we won't be able to count on our European allies. I guess because our European allies are never targeted by The Terrorists.

Fortunately, respectable news organizations don't allow journalists to express political opinions: Hadas Gold, CNN reporter suspended after tweet on refugees Politico 11/19/15

Otherwise, We might think Generalissimo Tom was shamelessly warmongering instead of objectively commenting on the situation.

Kathleen Parker sounds like the sensible one in this clip, God help us. And of course, we need to go all Greatest Generation on The Evil Ones, too. I feel like I'm watching a bad remake of a bad clown movie.

There's nothing quite like watching the Sunday morning shoes to diminish your faith in the future of the human race.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Portugal's new fight for democracy

As the left majority in the Portuguese Parliament continue to press its demand to form a government, I find myself thinking back to the acute phase of the Greek crisis earlier this year.

If the left majority takes power and seriously pushes back against the austerity measures, Angela Merkel's government is likely to retaliate. The ECB can bring enormous pressure on Portugal by withdrawing support from Portuguese banks in a similar way to what it did to coerce the Greek government into surrendering on austerity. Merkel also clearly wanted to punish the Greek voters for daring to vote against her Hebert Hoover/Heinrich Brüning austerity policy.

Since the attacks from Germany and the ECB forced a new election but returned Alexis Tsipras and his anti-austerity coalition back to power anyway, they may take a different approach with Portugal. But their pressure against Greece did force Tsipras to accept a continuation of the ruinous austerity program. So they have a tried-and-tested regime change model at hand.

The bottom line that we see from the Greek experience is that if Portugal is faced with a full-on coercive program in retaliation for election results that displeased Merkel, if they want to successfully push back, they have to be willing to risk being pushed out of the eurozone and go back to their own currency.

The Portuguese President Aníbal Cavaco Silva would obviously prefer to have the current conservative Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho continue in office. Despite the name of Passos' party, Social Democratic Party (PSD), the official social-democratic party and affiliate of the Socialist International is the Socialist Party (PS), which heads the majority left coalition that should be taking power now. Passos is trying to get the President to stall on allowing the left majority to create a government, claiming that it wouldn't be "stable." (Maria Lopes, Esquerda garante orçamento, direita quer que Presidente seja mais exigente com PS Público 20.11.2015)

Deputy Prime Minister Paulo Portas is the and head of the Christian Democratic CDS–People's Party (CDS-PP), the junior partner in the current and hopefully outgoing government. As Lopes reports:

[Portas] avisou, em tom de ameaça, que o Governo de esquerda “poderá ser matematicamente viável, poderá ser formalmente constitucional; será sempre politicamente ilegítimo e o CDS extrairá daí as consequências necessárias e suficientes”.

[{Portas} warned in a menacing tone that the government of the left "might be mathematically viable, might be formally constitutional; it will always be politically illegitimate and the CDS will then draw the necessary and sufficient consequences.]
Economist and former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis is reserved about the approach of the Portuguese left coalition, as he explained to The World Weekly (Yanis Varoufakis’ ‘erratic’ Marxism 11/19/2015; also at Varoufakis' blog)

As the global financial crisis began in 2008, the eurozone was thrown into a sovereign debt crisis which engulfed not just Greece, but also Portugal, Ireland, Spain and Cyprus. The political impact of the crisis was swift. In many of these cases, the national governments moved to the right while once marginal forces became increasingly prominent. Much like in Greece, Portugal’s crisis to the emergence of a new progressive coalition led by the Socialist Party.

“The two countries, Greece and Portugal, are caught up in the same eurozone-wide crisis and both have been subjected to dead-end policies that have been portrayed as success stories (with the Portuguese one bathed in more adulatory light),” Dr. Varoufakis tells The World Weekly. “But there is a difference: last January, in Greece, our government was elected with a clear mandate to oppose these dead-end policies.”

“In Portugal this is not the case,” Dr. Varoufakis explains, “as the Socialist Party seems determined, even before forming government, to avoid challenging the basic logic of a failed policy agenda”. So the former Greek finance minister is not optimistic that the new coalition, which includes Greens and Communists, presents a sufficient challenge to austerity. It is important to note that the Socialist Party was the architect of the austerity measures as the crisis hit.

When asked if the Portuguese case represents any sign of social democracy resurging, Dr. Varoufakis does not mince his words. “Social democracy remains in tatters of its own making,” he says. “It has yet to articulate a valid criticism of its contribution to the eurozone’s terrible architecture as well as to the illogical manner in which Europe responded to the inevitable failures of that architecture.”
See also:

Stefan Schultz, Politische Krise in Portugal: Die Unsicherheit kehrt zurück Spiegel Online 11.11.2015. Schultz talks about the possible but constitutionally dubious option of the President calling for new elections immediately, or allowing the democratically elected left majority to form a government. He called it a "choice between the plague and cholera." But he also describes the "misery" that Merkel's austerity economics has brought to Portugal. And he notes that many Portuguese citizens find it "undemocratic" that the President would try to block the left majority from taking power. That's probably because it is undemocratic.

La actriz y el operario que están detrás del pacto de izquierda en Portugal Público 10.11.2015

Sérgio Aníbal, As chaves do debate difícil entre um governo PS e Bruxelas Público (Portugal) 11/11/2015

Syma Tariq, Portugal senses a chance for change after pro-austerity government is ousted The Guardian 11/11/2015

Catarina Martins in Women who conquered macho world of Portuguese politics prepare for power The Guardian 11/14/2015 notes:

Bloco de Esquerda, Portugal’s equivalent to Greece’s anti-austerity Syriza party, is a crucial element in a leftwing alliance which is set to deliver a socialist government. Its sudden rise is also the story of a remarkable turnaround in fortunes which, in a notoriously macho political culture, has been masterminded by four women: the Bloc’s leader, Catarina Martins, deputies Mortágua and her sister Mariana, and Euro-deputy Marisa Matias.
Lauren McCauley, Portugal Rejoices as Anti-Austerity Left Coalition Forms to Oust Right Wing Common Dreams 11/10/2015

Friday, November 20, 2015

Once upon a time ...

"The Republicans were once a rational party."

That's the first line in Spiegel Online commentary by Veit Medick, Flüchtlingsdebatte in den USA: Die verunsicherten Staaten von Amerika 20.11.2015. ("Die Republikaner waren einmal eine vernünftige Partei.")

My title wasn't accidental. A common opening for Grimms' fairy tales was, "Es war einmal ...," of which the familiar English translation is, "Once upon a time ..." Medick's "waren einmal" could be taken a invoking the fairy tale introduction. At least that's the way I took it.

And when I think back to when the Republicans Party was rational, it does seem like kind of a fairy tale, something that happened long ago and far away.

Bobo claims to like Hillary Clinton's ISIS speech

David "Bobo" Brooks claims to be impressed with Hillary Clinton's foreign policy speech this week. As he explains in Hillary Clinton Takes On ISIS New York Times 11/20/2015.

But he uses her speech to advocate for the good old neocon program of spreading democracy by toppling Arab governments all over the place, with Assad's government in Syria being the proximate regime change target:

Clinton therefore gestured to the reality that you can’t really deal with ISIS unless you are also willing to deal with Assad. Assad is not some secondary threat who we can deal with after we’ve tamed the ISIS monster. Assad created the failed state and the power vacuum that ISIS was able to fill. Assad serves as chief recruiter for ISIS every time he drops a barrel bomb on a school or a market. Assad, as Clinton pointed out, has murdered even more Syrians than ISIS has.

Dealing with both Assad and ISIS simultaneously throws you into the bitter and complex jockeying between Sunni and Shiite, between Iran and Saudi Arabia. It puts pressure on your Ukraine policy (Vladimir Putin will want concessions as a price for backing off his aggression in the Middle East). Everything is connected. Which is why the presidency is for grown-ups, not rank outsiders. [my emphasis]
I wonder how many Americans had ever heard of a "barrel bomb" before it became a stock propaganda point against Assad's regime.

Bobo proceeds to argue that Arab nationalism has failed, and various national states along with them. He quotes Max Boot, one of the professional warmongers who employs his best hackery in the cause of promoting war:

That means confronting the forces that thrive in failed states. That begins with stepped-up military pressure on ISIS. Max Boot of the Council on Foreign Relations proposes a campaign like the one that allowed the Northern Alliance to overthrow the Taliban after 9/11 — a light footprint campaign using Special Operations forces and C.I.A. paramilitaries to direct allied bombing in support of locals on the ground. Once life becomes a miserable grind for ISIS soldiers, recruiting will suffer.

But it also means going hard on Assad, creating no-fly zones for sanctuaries for Syrian refugees to limit his power, ratcheting up pressure on Iran and Russia to force his departure. And it also means supporting institutional reform, as Clinton said, throughout the Arab world, to revitalize nations as functioning units. Not an unsustainable stab at nation-building, but better governance from top to bottom. [my emphasis]
The link in Bobo's quote which is in the online original takes you to the neocon's mothership ideological magazine, Commentary.

Jim Lobe provides a valuable sketch on Boot's outlook and career in The Mindless Militarism of Max Boot 11/18/2015.

I would summarize the obvious advocacy and implications of Bobo's proposal this way:

  • A military campaign would be quick and easy, just like the Northern Alliance ousting of the Taliban government of Afghanistan in 2001 (Reality to ignore: the US is still at war in Afghanistan 14 years later with no end in sight)
  • Create no-fly zones over Syria (Reality to ignore: this risks direct military confrontation with Russia)
  • Create sanctuary zones for refugees, aka, safe havens, that would presumably be controlled by someone acceptable to the US (Reality to ignore: Those Syrian Moderates we've been hearing about for years are proving harder to find than herds of frolicking unicorns)
  • Forcing reform to all Arab governments "from top to bottom" (Reality to ignore: Iraq, 2203-present)

To repeat the question I've been asking a lot lately: What could possibly go wrong?

This lady has found a Syrian Moderate!

Juan Cole points to the only political goal that seems remotely feasible at the moment, A New Yalta? Can France Craft an alliance of Putin & Obama against Daesh/ISIL? Informed Comment 11/18/2015.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Hillary on ISIS

The Council on Foreign Relations has the full transcript, A Conversation With Hillary Clinton 11/19/2015. Oddly, it includes the full text twice.

Her opening description of Daesh/ISIS sounds like standard war propaganda:

Now, let’s be clear about what we’re facing. Beyond Paris, in recent days, we’ve seen deadly terrorist attacks in Nigeria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Turkey, and a Russian civilian airline destroyed over the Sinai. At the heat of today’s new landscape of terror is ISIS. They persecute religious and ethnic minorities, kidnap and behead civilians, murder children. They systematically enslave, torture, and rape women and girls. ISIS operates across three mutually reinforcing dimensions—a physical enclave in Iraq and Syria, an international terrorist network that includes affiliates across the region and beyond, and an ideological movement of radical jihadism. We have to target and defeat all three.

And time is of the essence. ISIS is demonstrating new ambition, reach, and capabilities. We have to break the group’s momentum, and then its back. Our goal is not to deter or contain ISIS but to defeat and destroy ISIS.
There has understandably been a lot of coverage of Clinton's speech, like: Maddy Crowell, Hillary Clinton calls for increase in US air strikes against ISIS (+video) Christian Science Monitor 11/19/2015; Samantha Lachman, Hillary Clinton Proposes Intensified American Effort 'To Defeat And Destroy' ISIS Huffington Post 11/19/2015.

She said things here and there from which Democratic base voters could take some encouragement. I'm not sure this was one of them: "Like President Obama, I do not believe that we should again have 100,000 American troops in combat in the Middle East."

Great, she doesn't want to commit more than 99,000 combat troops. Until things go south for them, of course, and then a new Surge will be necessary to preserve American credibility, yadda, yadda. After a few decades, these phrases get to sound very tiresome. And familiar.

She talked about the political choices in the situation. For instance:

We need to put sustained pressure on the government in Baghdad to gets its political house in order, move forward with national reconciliation, and finally, stand up a national guard. Baghdad needs to accept, even embrace, arming Sunni and Kurdish forces in the war against ISIS. But if Baghdad won’t do that, the coalition should do so directly.

On the Syrian side, the big obstacle to getting more ground forces to engage ISIS beyond the Syrian Kurds, who are already deep in the fight is that the viable Sunni opposition groups remain understandably preoccupied with fighting Assad, who, let us remember, has killed many more Syrians than the terrorists have. But they are increasingly under threat from ISIS as well, so we need to move simultaneously toward a political solution to the civil war that paves the way for a new government with new leadership, and to encourage more Syrians to take on ISIS as well.
Nothing that she says seems to make it clear what side we would actually be supporting. Clearly not the Assad regime in Syria. She wants to support the Kurds up to a point, i.e., not to the point of establishing a Kurdistan state carved out of Turkey, Syria and Iraq.

And she doesn't want to make nice with Iran, which is an ally of both the Iraqi government and Assad. In response to a question after her main statement, she mentioned the Al-Qaeda affiliate the Al-Nusra Front, that is also fighting against ISIS and Assad in Syria. But she said the fight against ISIS should be the priority. The question period also includes this exchange:

ZAKARIA: So no fight—no fight against Assad for now?

CLINTON: There—we have to prioritize. And we had an opportunity, perhaps—I won’t say that it would have worked. But right now, we’ve got the Russians in protecting Assad, the Iranians, and Hezbollah protecting Assad. We need to get people to turn against the common enemy of ISIS. And then we need to figure out how we put together a political outcome that provides enough autonomy so that the separate immunities [sic] within Syria will be able to recreate a Syrian state, even though it probably is unlikely it will be controlled by the Alawites from Damascus, the same way it was before the civil war started.
This sounds like a mighty muddle to me. Clinton wants military escalation. But she doesn't seem to have any clear plan for what a desirable or acceptable political outcome would be. This doesn't sound good to me.

Not-so-smart Dr. Ben

You don't often see a definition of the word "smart." At least I don't. But this one from "neuroguy" (Dr. Ben Carson Is Not Smart Alternet 11/10/2015) strikes me as a good one (italics in original):

“Smart” is a multifaceted cognitive feature composed of excellent analytical skills, possession of an extensive knowledge base that is easily and frequently augmented, possession of a good memory, and being readily curious about the world and willing, even eager, to reject previously accepted notions in the face of new data. Being smart includes having the ability to analyze new data for validity and, thinking creatively, draw new insights from existing common knowledge.
As the title indicates, it's about Dr. Ben, who seems to be dropping in some recent polls. (Sophia Tesfaye, Ben Carson is cratering: New polls show controversies taking a toll on the wingnut favorite Salon 11/19/2015) The actual caucuses and primaries will be here soon enough, so I'm not putting a lot of faith in the opinion polls at this point.

But he does have some big hurdles to get past as a Presidential candidate. (Adele Stan, Is Ben Carson's Campaign About to Implode? The American Prospect 11/18/2015)

As Adele Stan points out, he may not pass some of the ideological litmus tests that the Christian Right applies.

Even more serious, though, is that he's a black candidate running in the Republican Party, aka, the Christian Republican White People's Party. The Republican Party since 1968 has been working hard to establish and maintain itself as the anti-black party. It's very difficult to imagine them nominating Dr. Ben as their Presidential candidate. Chauncey DeVega describes that reality this way (The Paris Terror Attacks and the Right-wing Media's War on Reality, Indomitable 11/17/2015; bolding in original)

In the post civil-rights era, conservatism and racism is now the same thing. The Republican Party is the United States’ largest white identity organization. As a matter of policy, it uses overt and subtle racism to win votes from racially resentful white people. To point, almost immediately, overt and open white supremacist websites began to feature content from more “mainstream” right-wing websites in response to my essay on the Paris terror attacks. Their “analysis” and “commentary” were almost identical: violent threats, racism, lies and disinformation.
DeVega sees Dr. Ben's candidacy this way (Is He a Genius? A Fool? Or Both? Ben Carson Now Has a "Rap Music" Political Ad 11/05/2015):

Ben Carson now has a rap video that is designed to appeal to "black voters". Although hip hop as an art form has fallen so far below the artistic and musical creativity and majesty of even ten years ago (never mind 20 years when Biggie, Nas, Tribe, Outcast, and Wu-Tang released seminal albums) Carson's rap video will of course have no appeal to "black" voters. The only folks who will be moved by it are Carson's racially resentful and bigoted white conservative supporters. Why? Because it lets them feel "cool" and "hip" as they groove to the negro race record croonings of Carson's emcee and the jungle rhythms of the synthesized drum. ...

He is fleecing dumb white conservatives of their money, getting rich off of campaign donations, and engaging in a type of post modern performance art and spectacular politics that mocks the stupidity of the American public.
But, even if Dr. Ben remains a major contender for the nomination, the ascendancy of spectacle over reality in politics proceeds.

Guy Debord wrote in Society of the Spectacle (1968; Black & Red translation, 1970) :

The spectacle is not a collection of images but a social relation among people mediated by images.

The spectacle cannot be understood as the abuse of a world of vision, as the product of the techniques of mass dissemination of images. It is, rather, a Weltanschauung which has become actual, materially translated. It is a vision of the world which has become objectified.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Scioli vs. Macri in the Argentine Presidential election

Argentina's Presidential runoff election between Peronist Daniel Scioli and oligopolist Mauricio Macri takes place this Sunday, November 22.

This past Sunday, the two candidates debated. Here are the Spanish-language videos of the debates from TV Pública Argentina.

#ElDebateEnTVP - Tema: Desarrollo económico y humano - 15-11-15 (16:20):

#ElDebateEnTVP - Tema: Educación e infancia - 15-11-15 (14:56):

#ElDebateEnTVP - Tema: Seguridad y DD HH - 15-11-15 (13:58):

#ElDebateEnTVP - Tema: Fortalecimiento democrático - 15-11-15 (14:35):

#ElDebateEnTVP - Palabras finales - 15-11-15 (5:24):

The news team of TV Pública Argentina evaluated the debate afterwards. It's safe to say they were more favorably impressed by Scioli's performance. Visión 7 - Balances después del debate entre Scioli y Macri (45:03)

One of Scioli's main arguments is in favor of continuing the capital controls with which Cristina Fernández' government has managed price controls and promoted the development of domestic industry. Another is that he wants to continue resisting the blackmail being conducted by American vulture funds against Argentina. Macri has tried to avoid specifics. But it seems pretty clear that he will try to come to terms with the vulture funds that will be unfavorable to his country. And that he will push for a devaluation against the dollar that would produce a level of inflation that would reverse many of the gains that the previous two "kirchnerist" governments have achieved.

The Argentine Sub-Secretary for External Commerce, Paula Español, warns in an interview about the negative consequences of the kind of trade liberalization advocated by Macri's economic advisers, i.e., dropping import controls, along with devaluation. (“Pone en riesgo la industria” Página/12 18.11.2015) Macri wants to go back to the kind of neoliberal/Washington Consensus model that predominated in the 1990s and led to the financial crisis of 2001, which produced a major governmental crisis, as well. Español told Página/12 that the sectors she expected to be most adversely affected would be "textiles, autos, auto parts, wood and furniture, footware and toys."

The Buenos Aires Herald reports (‘There is a triangle of regression: IMF, vultures and the alliance candidate’ 11/18/2015)

From the province of Santa Fe, where he is campaigning ahead of Sunday presidential runoff, the Victor Front candidate Daniel Scioli insisted he is the guarantee of the “exchange rate stability” and was confident that “many are analyzing their vote.”

He continued: “There is a triangle of regression: IMF, vultures and the alliance candidate,” he said, referring to his contender from the Let’s Change [Cambiemos] coalition, Mauricio Macri.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Euro crisis and its twin, the refugee crisis

Wolfgang Münchau is writing aboput Gemeinsame Währung: Die wahre Krise (Common Currency: The True Crisis) Spiegel Online 13.11.2015. His column is an early postmortum on the euro:

Die Flüchtlingskrise ist politisch wichtig, aber nicht wirklich ökonomisch. Sie wirkt kurzfristig wie ein leichtes Konjunkturprogramm und wird langfristig die deutsche Demographie etwas verbessern. Ich halte den Effekt für positiv, aber viel mehr ist dazu nicht zu sagen.

Die Eurokrise hingegen ist weder ausgestanden noch bewältigt. Sie wirkt weiter, jeden Tag. Sie wirkt ökonomisch auf Europa wie die Flüchtlingskrise politisch. Jeden Tag wird es schlimmer, weil man nicht das Problem löst, sondern weil man damit beschäftigt ist, irgendwelche Feuer zu löschen, die man durch die eigene Inkompetenz entfacht hat.

[The refugee crisis is politically important but not really economically. It has the short-term effect of a mild stimulus program and in the long run with improve German demography a bit. I see the effect as positive, but there's not a lot more to say about it.

The euro crisis, on the other hand, has been neither survived nor overcome. It's still going on, every day. It acts economically on Europe like the refugee crisis politically. Every day it gets worse, because the problem has not been solved, but we are rather busy putting out some fire or other that our own incompetence started.]
He actually uses the indeterminate "one (man)" where I translate "we." But I'm pretty sure the main "one" he means is Angela Merkel.

He also sees the growing German trade surplus as a problem in itself.

In a separate column, Münchau warns that Italy could soon find itself in the position where it finds the political and/or economic advantages of leaving the euro immediately compelling. (Italy’s economic recovery is not what it seems Financial Times 11/15/2015) He praises social-democratic Prime Minister Matteo Renzi for his important though relatively modest departures from Angela Merkel's austerity regime. "But," he writes, "what worries me is that the Italian government is not ready for when the impact of the slowdown in China and emerging markets hits Europe." And he observes, "Friday’s preliminary figures for eurozone gross domestic product show that the slowdown has started."

Andreas Schnauder calls attention to the connections between the euro crisis and the refugee crisis in Zwei Krisen, ein Versagen Der Standard 12.11.2015:

In Griechenland wird wieder großflächig gestreikt. Dadurch werden Erinnerungen wach, dass das Land vor nur vier Monaten noch am Abgrund stand und mehr als nur Spekulationen über einen Austritt aus der Eurozone die Runde machten. Inzwischen hat sich die Lage dank umfassender Hilfszusagen wieder beruhigt, doch gelöst wurden die Probleme nicht. Vielmehr hat sich die europäische Aufmerksamkeit zum Thema Flüchtlinge verlagert. Beide Krisen haben eines gemein: Sie waren lange vorhersehbar, ohne dass die EU rechtzeitig und richtig reagiert hätte.

[In Greece, there are again widespread strikes. Thereby memories are kept alive, the the country just four months ago stood on the abyss and not merely speculation was making the rounds about an exit from the eurozone. Since then things have calmed down, thanks to comprehensive promises of assistance, but the problems are certainly not solved. The attention of Europe has fastened much more on the refugee theme. Both crises have something in common: they were foreseeable long ago, with the EU reacting in a timely and correct way.]

Deutsche Welle English reports, Paris attacks stoke fears amongst refugees 11/17/2015:

Lisa Caspari in Der Anfang vom Ende Die Zeit 11.11.2015 takes note of how Merkel's attempt to create a short-term fix for this year's acute phase of the refugee problem is already looking like a failure.

Caspari takes the dissent withing the CDU/CSU against Merkel's refugee policies more seriously than I would. They look to me like the kind of political Kabuki on xenophobia that the CDU/CSU has used in the past, trying to have it both ways by having the leaders argue to respect law and human rights while dissenters argue for anti-immigrant, xenophobic position to protect their right flank politically. An ENSA poll commissioned by the sensationalist tabloid Bild-Zeitung is showing the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) as the third most popular party in Germany, after Merkel's coalition parties, the CDU/CSU and the SPD. But (CDU/CSU stoppen Umfrage-Absturz Bild-Zeitung 17.11.2015)

Yiannis Baboulias also describes the political tensions within the EU, even before last Friday's terrorist killings (The refugee crisis is tearing Europe apart Aljazeera America 11/05/2015. He also points to the cheap nationalist spirit Merkel and her CDU/CSU/SPD government promoted over the euro crisis:

The political divisions between the EU’s richer and poorer members are also growing. Treaties are being thrown out the window, as country after country is building walls and reinstating passport controls even for EU citizens. Activists took to the streets last weekend near Greece’s land border with Turkey, demanding to open the fence that was built there three years ago. They were met with riot police and tear gas. Opening the border is not a decision the Greek government can make alone; if they do so unilaterally, it’s almost certain every border north of Greece will be sealed. Greece would become a purgatory for hundreds of thousands of people who don’t want to be there. There is virtually zero chance European leaders will ever allow for this safe pathway to open.

As with the battle over austerity, the refugee crisis has turned into a class issue and a cultural divide. In northern Europe, the scorn facing “refugees” and “economic migrants” mirrors that facing “lazy, profligate southerners” in countries such as Greece and Spain. [my emphasis]

Monday, November 16, 2015

Fixing our gaze on calamity - and hurting ourselves in the process

"The gaze fixed on calamity has an element of fascination. But therefore of secret complicity. So strong are the social bad conscience[s] of all who have a part in injustice, and the hatred of fulfilled life, that in critical situations they turn directly against self-interest as an immanent revenge."

- "Vain Terror," Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment (Edmund Jephcott translation; 2002)

Horkheimer and Adorno were looking intensely in Dialectic of Enlightenment at the lessons of the Third Reich and how it represented a catastrophically bad development of the instrumental reason stemming from the Enlightenment tradition. They continue directly from the above lines to say:

There was in the French bourgeois a fatal agency which ironically resembled the heroic ideal of the fascists: they rejoiced in the triumph of their likeness, as expressed in Hitler's rise, even though it threatened them with ruin; indeed, they took their own ruin as evidence of the justice of the order they represented.
This probably strikes most American readers today as more enigmatic than it did at the time, though they use an aphoristic style in that book that at times is reminiscent of Nietzsche.

But when it was first published in 1944, the reference would have been more obvious. The conservatives who saw themselves as representing the interests of German capitalism invited Hitler to become Chancellor of Germany in January, 1933. Not because they had signed own to the National Socialist program, but because they thought they could use Hitler to create a stable authoritarian order more along conservative, Bismarckian lines. They thought they could control him, as it is sometimes said.

The previous Chancellor Franz von Papen (1879–1969) was one of the leading political players who brought Hitler into the government. Hitler's Thirty Days to Power: January 1933 (1996) by Henry Ashby Turner, Jr., gives a detailed and very readable account of those events. But Hitler made intensive use of the politics of calamity, using the Reichstag Fire as a pretext to gain emergency powers from Parliament that allowed him to rule as a dictator. After the Night of the Long Knives, aka, the Röhm Putsch, in which Hitler suppressed the followers of SA leader Ernst Röhm and killed many of them including Röhm himself, Von Papen was sidelined and the old conservatives were largely squeezed out of power.

So, Van Papen and the conservative capitalists of Germany were "fixed on calamity" in the form of their fears of Communist revolution, and they were willing to roll the dice on Hitler and the Nazis. The result within a few years was a disastrous war and the devastation of Germany.

But Horkheimer and Adorno argue that such conservatives were perversely led by the "social bad conscience" that went along with their fear of revolution, which psychologically represented to them "hatred of fulfilled life" in addition to more pragmatic concerns. Driven by irrational fears, they made a short-term choice according to instrumental rationality that was ultimately self-destructive in violation of a broader application of Reason.

It was also widely understood in 1944 that the fall of France had been facilitated by Fifth Column subversion and a spirit of less than steadfast resistance to Hitler on the part of the respectable classes of France. Even when they had been conquered and occupied, many of them were willing to go along to get along by supporting the pro-Hitler Vichy traitor regime: "they rejoiced in the triumph of their likeness, as expressed in Hitler's rise, even though it threatened them with ruin; indeed, they took their own ruin as evidence of the justice of the order they represented."

At the risk of running afoul of Godwin's Law, the psychological dynamic there struck me as having relevance to the kind of sky-is-falling warmongering that happens every time there is a dramatic terrorist attack involving Muslims ever since 9/11. The latest of course being last week's Paris attack.

As the (still) global hegemon, US politics is far, far more focused on the danger of underreacting rather than overreacting. But the US should have learned long ago, including in the period since 2001, that overreacting can also badly damage our national interest.

Paul "the Shrill One" Krugman makes a decidedly non-shrill and sensible plea for measured and considered reactions to the Paris attacks (Fearing Fear Itself New York Times 11/16/2015):

Like millions of people, I’ve been obsessively following the news from Paris, putting aside other things to focus on the horror. It’s the natural human reaction. But let’s be clear: it’s also the reaction the terrorists want. And that’s something not everyone seems to understand.

Take, for example, Jeb Bush’s declaration that “this is an organized attempt to destroy Western civilization.” No, it isn’t. It’s an organized attempt to sow panic, which isn’t at all the same thing. And remarks like that, which blur that distinction and make terrorists seem more powerful than they are, just help the jihadists’ cause.

... France is not going to be conquered by ISIS, now or ever. Destroy Western civilization? Not a chance.
How can we, the West, NATO, "turn directly against self-interest" in this situation and bring "an immanent revenge" on ourselves? Pretty much the way we did after the 9/11 attacks, especially with the invasion of Iraq. Krugman:

A much bigger risk [than "appeasement"], in practice, is that the targets of terrorism will try to achieve perfect security by eliminating every conceivable threat — a response that inevitably makes things worse, because it’s a big, complicated world, and even superpowers can’t set everything right. On 9/11 Donald Rumsfeld told his aides: “Sweep it up. Related and not,” and immediately suggested using the attack as an excuse to invade Iraq. The result was a disastrous war that actually empowered terrorists, and set the stage for the rise of ISIS.

And let’s be clear: this wasn’t just a matter of bad judgment. Yes, Virginia, people can and do exploit terrorism for political gain, including using it to justify what they imagine will be a splendid, politically beneficial little war.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Scioli on Macri (Argentine elections)

A week from today is the final round of the Argentine Presidential election pitting Peronist candidate Daniel Scioli against the oligopoly's favorite, Mauricio Macri, who is kind of like an Argentine version of Mitt Romney.

Scioli's electoral alliance is called Frente para la Victoria (FpV). Macri's is called Cambiemos.

Página/12 Scioli: "Hay muchos que están arrepentidos de haber votado a Macri" 09.11.2015 gives an example of the kind of criticism Scioli is directing against Macri in the runoff:

... el candidato del oficialismo señaló que "las propuestas económicas y energéticas" de su rival de Cambiemos, Mauricio Macri, "dan miedo". "Si vamos a dejarnos guiar en el tema energético por un gerente de Shell, así nos va a ir; si vamos a dejarnos guiar por un gerente de Monsanto en la agenda agrícola, así nos va a ir; si vamos a dejarnos guiar por un gerente de Lan Chile, cómo va Aerolíneas a terminar despegando", advirtió.

Por eso, el postulante por el FpV agregó que "cuando Macri habla de lo que va a hacer en materia de Energía, despierta una inmediata reacción porque ya nadie piensa en volver atrás con YPF, porque eso es soberanía".

[... the candidate of the encumbent part signaled that "the economic and energy proposals" of his rival of Cambiemos, Mauricio Macri, "are scary." "If we are going to turn over the direction of our energy team to a manager of Shell, that's how things will go for us {i.e., things will go the way Shell wants}; If we are going to turn over the direction of our agricultural agenda to a Monsanto manager, that's how things will go for us; if we are going to turn over the direction to a LAN Chile manager, how is Aerolíneas going to get off the ground," he warned.

For this reason, the FpV candidate added that "when Macri talks about what's going to happen in matters of the Energy Department, he awakes an immediate reaction because really no one is thinking about going backwards with YPF, because that is sovereignty."]
Scioli's references to the national airline Aerolíneas and the energy compnay YPF, he's naming the two most significant enterprises that were privatized under neoliberal practices and re-nationalized during Cristina Fernandez' Presidency as measures to defend Argentina's sovereignty and prosperity.

Scioli and Macri have a debate tonight. The Buenos Aires Herald reports (Scioli seeks to turn the tables with debate 11/15/2015):

Regarding economic issues, Scioli and Macri will be asked to debate over inflation, employment and social security as well as subsidies and foreign currency restrictions.

The two candidates will also have to refer to security and human rights, explaining their proposals on sensitive areas such as drug-trafficking — a topic that was brought into the political spotlight by the Supreme Court with the creation of a judicial commission to fight narcotics, human-trafficking, gender and what they should do with the security forces and the secret services — which were reformed earlier this year by the Kirchnerite [FpV] administration after the mysterious death of former AMIA special prosecutor Alberto Nisman.

The future of the trials for dictatorship-era crimes can be among the topics that the two nominees will discuss, with human rights groups preparing to endorse Scioli’s presidential bid ahead of the runoff with Macri.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Friday's Paris terrorist attack and the dream of rebooting history

The Austrian news service, Nachrichten.at, the website of the Oberösterreichische Nachrichten, ran an editorial on Saturday, Europa in Krieg (Europe At War) 14.11.2015:

Unser Mitgefühl gilt allen Opfern, unsere Solidarität Frankreich.

Dabei hat das wahllose gestrige Morden nicht Frankreich allein gegolten. Es ist ein Anschlag auf Europa, unsere Werte, unsere Form des Zusammenlebens, unsere Prinzipien, die offenen Grenzen, das Nebeneinander verschiedener Kulturen, die Freiheiten. Die Codewörter dazu sind eindeutig: Syrien, Islamischer Staat, radikaler Islam. Unabhängig von der Zahl der Toten, die sich stündlich erhöht, steht der gestrige Tag gleichauf neben 9/11, er wird die globale Politik verändern. Europa befindet sich im Ausnahmezustand. Uns muss klar sein.

Es wird sich wehren und den Kampf aufnehmen. Es wird ihn überall dort führen müssen, wo der Angriff auf unsere Werte seinen Ausgang nimmt. Auch dazu bestehen keine Alternativen.

[All the victims have our sympathy, France has our solidarity.

In the event, the innumerable {sic} murders yesterday did not affect only France. It is an attack on Europe, our values, our form of living together, our principles, the open borders, the co-existence of different cultures, the freedoms. The code words there are clear: Syria, Islamic State, radical Islam. Regardless of the number of dead, that keeps increasing, yesterday stands next to 9/11, it will change global politics. Europe finds itself in a state of emergency. We must be clear.

It {Europe} will defend itself and take up the fight. It will have to conduct it everywhere from which the attack on our value originated. And there are no alternatives available.]
The euro crisis alone should have taught everyone that TINA (There Is No Alternative) can be a bad guide to action. At least, if the goal is to actually solve problems.

This kind of pompous, melodramatic declaration is painfully familiar to Americans. At least to the majority who don't want the Permanent War for Permanent Peace to which Donald Trump, Dr. Ben Carson and the rest of today's Republican Party leaders are committed.

Realism and reason go out the window with this kind of posturing. And it's not just newspaper editors. The French President struck a similar tone (Adam Nossiter et al, Three Teams of Coordinated Attackers Carried Out Assault on Paris, Officials Say; Hollande Blames ISIS 11/14/2015):

“It is an act of war that was committed by a terrorist army, a jihadist army, Daesh, against France,” President François Hollande told the nation from the Élysée Palace, using an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State. “It is an act of war that was prepared, organized and planned from abroad, with complicity from the inside, which the investigation will help establish.”
The Oberösterreichische Nachrichten editorial is sadly reminiscent of the war and revenge talk after the 9/11 attacks in the US.

The 9/11 attacks were planned in Germany, but at least we didn't attack Germany. Early indications on the Paris attack Friday are that two of the places "from which the attack ... originated" could be Germany and Belgium. Hopefully, France will have the restraint not to invade either of those two countries. But defending our civilized values by bombing the crap out of some Arab (or maybe Persian) country has become a dreary cliche in American politics. So far, over 14 years after 9/11, our interventions and freedom bombs have left us with civil wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Libya. The "war on terrorism" obviously hasn't done away with terrorism as a form of military conflict. And Europe is already experiencing a refugee crisis, many of whom are fleeing conflicts connected with our Afghanistan War and Iraq War, neither of which are entirely over.

The editorial's comment that the Paris attack "will change global politics" reminds me so much of the comment that Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage made to the Pakistani head of intelligence just after 9/11, "History starts today." But history didn't reboot itself. Nuclear-armed Pakistan is still supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan, and their long-standing dispute with nuclear-armed India over Kashmir still takes precedence over Washington's demands in their strategic decisions, in which the current Afghan government is a "pro-Indian" danger in their eyes. (James Mann quotes the Armitage comment in Rise of the Vulcans, 2004)

And the justifiable outrage over the Paris attacks won't make any French intervention in Syria any easier. History didn't reboot on Friday any more than it did on 9/11/2001. Many of the current problems in the Middle East go directly back to the ways in which Britain and France enacted their civilizing mission to the Arab countries after they dismembered the Ottoman Empire after the First World War. France got Syria as a colony, uh, "mandate." France and Britain took the lead in their most recent effort to civilize Libya with bombs, which the US joined. Even supporters of that intervention have a difficult time seeing the results as anything but grim.

Friday didn't "change global politics" in any way that will make an military intervention in Syria and Iraq easier. Outside powers will still have to make choices among supporting the Syrian government, of Daesh/ISIS, or the Al Qaeda affiliate there. They will still have to navigate the conflicting allegiances of Israel, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, Qatar and Russia.

It's not as though nationalist delusions haven't already done tremendous damage to the EU with the euro and refugee crises, neither of which are over. A massive escalation of war in Syria will make the latter even worse. More border controls, more (literal) walls between countries, more refugees. The actions to come by France and NATO can certainly "change global politics" in some way. Further disintegrative pressures on the EU could definitely have that effect.

If the comment, "Europe finds itself in a state of emergency," is meant for, say, this weekend, it is just routine hyperbole. But if France or the EU were to respond to Friday's attack by creating something like a permanent state of emergency, well, Carl Schmitt will be laughing heartily in whatever nasty precincts of the Great Beyond he currently finds himself.

I see that France is already dropping their freedom bombs, which will surely kill no innocent civilians as the terrorists did in Paris on Friday. (Francia lanza primeros ataques aéreos contra ISIS en Siria La Opinión/BBC Mundo 14.11.2015)

By the way, the Obama Administration is still dropping our freedom bombs in Libya: Libya IS head 'killed in US air strike' BBC News 11/14/2015. Also magically avoiding killing civilian noncombatants, no doubt.

Paris attacks: Advice that lots of people won't follow

The Aftermath of the Paris Attacks Is a Time to Grieve, Not Fear Monger is the title The Huffington Post gives to an 11/14/2015 opinion piece by Sam Corey, in which he quotes Bruce Hoffman:

Bruce Hoffman, Director of the Center for Security Studies at Georgetown University, who has nearly four decades of terrorism research experience, stated in his report, Terrorism and the Media, that this type of media coverage is actually harmful to our national security.

He writes, "Only by spreading the terror and outrage to a much larger audience can the terrorists gain the maximum potential leverage that they need to effect fundamental political change."

A key factor of their objective is to create fear among the target population. Hoffman argues, "it is an essential factor in any terrorist's agenda that the whole tactic of terrorism is based upon, and that is visible in all parts of terrorist activity."

This strategy to gain attention is intentional. To an important extent, terrorists also want to intimidate the audience and the target government so that "even the threat of possibly becoming victim of terrorist violence is enough to create fear."

The whole point of terrorism is to create terror, and FOX News is playing right into their twisted game. But this doesn't stop some Republican presidential hopefuls from joining in on the fray.
The fact that so many people, including political leaders, charged right into fear- and warmongering doesn't make the caution any less relevant.

I was unable to find the quoted report under the name Terrorism and the Media in a brief online search.

Juan Cole gives us his initial framework for thinking about the Paris attacks in Paris at Midnight: Attempt to push France out of anti ISIL coalition in Syria? Informed Comment 11/14/2015:

A radio and television professional who was at the Bataclan and survived reported “I clearly heard them say to the hostages, ‘It is [President Francois] Hollande’s fault, it is the fault of your president, he should not have intervened in Syria.’ They also spoke of Iraq.”

If this report is accurate, then the attackers were likely members of, or sympathizers with Daesh (ISIS, ISIL), which holds territory in Syria and Iraq, and against which France began flying missions in September. Another possible culprit is core al-Qaeda or one of its affiliates, such as the Support Front (al-Jabha al-Nusra) in Syria. The Support Front does not, however, have territory in Iraq, and France has not specifically targeted it in the west of Syria, as opposed to hitting ISIL in the east.

When I was in France in mid-October, I was told by a former diplomat that President Hollande had decided to begin flying missions against ISIL in Raqqa, Syria, last September because French intelligence had learned that ISIL was planning to hit France. It is estimated that there are some 3,000 radical French Muslims fighting in ISIL (though remember that this number is proportionally tiny, since there are on the order of 3 million French Muslims, some 5% of the population– and the majority of them is not religious).

This operation may, then, have been planned even before France was militarily involved in the campaign against ISIL in Syria, and the terrorists’ assertion that it was revenge for that intervention of the past two months has things backward.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Concern troll alert! Political Correctness, Aaaa-iiii!!!

"This is an editorial for my fellow liberals."

That's usually a sign of "concern control troll advice ahead." That is the first sentence of Matt Rozsa's Liberals Should Be Deeply Disturbed by Political Correctness Craze Sweeping College Campuses 11/11/2015.

Conservatives are always upset by black people protesting against white racism. And by college students protesting against anything, unless they're demonstrating against abortion or for gun proliferation. So when black college students at various places starting demonstrating against white racism, conservatives start sounding the alarm. And since the FOXists always want to scold the Mean Libruls for being big ole hypocrites, the demands start popping up for the Mean Libruls to have "Sistah Souljah" moments in which they denounce the unruly Negroes for being black and uppity.

And any liberal that gullible enough to fall into the trap will then face demands to denounce more convincingly. That's the way the game is played. (See MoveOn, General Betray Us ad, 2007)

Like most things in politics, the current round is not entirely new, it's just happening now. After the 1988 elections in which Old Man Bush smeared his way to victory over the admittedly rather hapless Michael Dukakis, there were several years of similar concern-troll demands around the deadly danger of "political correctness" on campus. Then as now, when people talked about "political correctness," the speaker usually meant things the speaker considered politically INcorrect. An interesting case of words taking on an opposite meaning.

The FOX/Limbaugh/Republican Party idea of Political Correctness is opposed by what art critic Robert Hughes called Patriotic Correctness in his book, Culture of Complaint: The Fraying of America (1993). There are always fad ideas and trend to be criticized. But the idea of Anti-Political Correctness singled out feminists and efforts to combat white racism for particular criticism. For the Christian Right, the notion that Political Correctness aimed at persecuting conservative white Christians by advocacy for abortion rights or LGBT rights was always part of the mix.

Also part of the anti-Political Correctness whining is the notion that it's not billionaire capitalists like the Koch Brothers who constitute the ruling elite, or ruling class if you prefer, in the United States. But rather it's "Hollywood" (i.e., TV, movies and Jews) and college professors who control the country and exercise a borderline reign of terror against good Christian white folks who are the Real Americans. It's a fantastic construction. But if you want to have One Percenters like Mitt Romney to be able to pass for advocates of the Real Americans while advocating only policies that favor the very wealthiest, you have to create some alternative reality to frame that posture.

It also gives conservatives defending white racism, segregation and voter suppression, discrimination against women, police brutality and general authoritarianism a way to posture as brave truth-tellers standing up against the tyranny of Political Correctness.

If there's enough money behind it, you can make this into a useful political ideology, as one can see any day atd any hour on FOX News.

To see a pearl-clutching version that more-or-less echoes the conservative hissy-fit, you can check out this piece by Conor Friedersdorf, who seems to have adopted this as a pet theme: Campus Activists Weaponize ‘Safe Space’ The Atlantic 11/10/2015.

A more practical-minded but still narrow view on the same incident on which Friedersdorf focuses comes from Will Bunch in College campuses aren't supposed to be intellectually safe. They need to be intellectually dangerous Attytood 11/11/2015.

Glenn Reynolds, aka, the Ole Perfesser, weighs in with what he probably thinks is clever snark to piss off Mean Libruls in After Yale, Mizzou, raise the voting age — to 25 The Tennessean 11/11/2015. The Ole Perfesser uses the recent protests by unruly Negroes at Missouri and Yale to say that the voting age should be raised to 25. In the process, he manages to compose a classic old-fart sentence: "it’s intolerable to be *governed* by spoiled children." Dagnab it, Bubba, how come they let all these here young whipper-snappers vote? The Ole Perfesser has been one of the leading conservative bloggers since the early 2000s.

The strangely-named student newspaper at the University of Missouri, Maneater, has a good editorial on this latest rightwing hobby horse, the confrontation between student protesters and a free-lance photographer. It straightforwardly defends the right of the press to cover the scene, which as I understand it is on public property and out in the open. But they also talk about the reasons that the black students have for not trusting the press generally: Nate Gatter, To journalists covering Mizzou protests, please take a breath 11/11/2015

Terrell Jermaine Starr also writes about how There’s a good reason protesters at the University of Missouri didn’t want the media around Washington Post 11/11/2015.

Digby Parton and Duncan Black both take realistic view of the recent disputes over free speech and white racism on college compuses. Digby in About those anti-free speech PC kids Hullabaloo 11/12/2015:

I've written a about the right's ongoing crusade to interfere with research and the doctor patient relationship on guns and abortion before. I realize that it's really icky when students get all PC and everything but I wish that some of our liberal defenders of free speech would pay a little bit closer attention to the way the government under conservatives is actively engaging in censorship. It seems to me that's a bigger problem.
Duncan address it in The Kids Today Eschaton 11/12/2015:

Anyway, without getting too deep into all of the details, I'm a bit confused by the fact that no one remembers The Kids In Their Day. Nothing much has changed. Some college kids are socially active. They often focus on the things they know about and the things they might have some influence over. You know, their university. This is actually smart, not silly.

It is true that sometimes kids do silly things, because they're kids. Adults sometimes do silly things, too, because they're people. Sometimes adults do silly things like invade other countries and kill lots of innocent people for no good reason. Sometimes they are real threats to free speech! Silly adults! Sometimes adults actually have power, unlike the kids.
Bruce Shapiro at The Nation reminds us of the actual protests on campus against white racism (Don’t Tell the Student Protesters at Yale to ‘Grow Up’ 11/13/2015):

Stirred by the Black Lives Matter movement, this year’s campus protests engage students on some pretty primordial terrain: the day-in-day-out interactions with classmates, teachers, administrators, and police that tell students whether they matter or not, individually and collectively. To off-campus observers, these protests can be confusing. The sparks and targets can seem diffuse, from emotional arguments over offensive Halloween costumes at Yale to allegations of racial slurs at Mizzou. But the stakes are real and have everything to do with some of the most fundamental issues roiling American politics.
Friedersdorf seems to have been a bit stung by criticism of his previous article on the scary protesting Negroes on campuses. In Free Speech Is No Diversion, he writes: "I hope to bridge that gap, and help everyone understand that liberals, libertarians, conservatives, and individualists alike are just as engaged in the fight against racism as the campus left, but in very different ways."

Interesting. Because conservatives seem to engage in "the fight against racism" by yelling, "Black people are racist against whites! Latinos are rapists and murderers!" And so on.

Here's a report from PBS Newshour, which features, Greg Lukianoff, the president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a conservative group that challenges campus rules and publicizes campus events that seem to fit into the anti-Political Correctness/they're-picking'-on-us-pore-white-folks framework, At Mizzou, Yale and beyond, campus protests stir fresh questions about free speech 11/12/2015:

Lukianoff and FIRE seem to be the most prominent group working this particular issue right now. So it's always helpful when these types of campus issues become a flashpoint for conservatives to whine about Political Correctness to be mindful of what role FIRE and its agenda plays in framing the discussions. The PBS discussion touches on "catastrophizing," which Matt Rozsa uses in the article from which I took the opening quote of this post.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

EU refugee crisis, 2015 acute phase

Srecko Horvat has been writing for years about the European refugee crisis. In The roots of this refugee crisis go back even further than the Arab spring Guardian 09/24/2015, he writes:

This will be remembered as the year when Europe experienced the biggest displacement of people since the second world war. As the latest report (published last Friday) by the International Organisation for Migration shows, a record 473,887 refugees have crossed the Mediterranean to Europe so far in 2015, including at least 182,000 Syrians – almost 40% of the total.
He makes the point that is critical to understanding why the refugee crisis is a sign of such massive failure within the EU and why it is intertwined with the euro crisis:

It began years ago. What countries such as Croatia, Serbia, Slovenia or Hungary are experiencing now is something that has been present for years in Greece, Macedonia and Italy, especially Lampedusa. The only reason the refugee crisis is now in the spotlight lies in a banal but brutal fact: it has penetrated from the periphery of Europe to the heart of the European Union.

Furthermore, the real causes go back much earlier than the war in Syria. Although it is being presented as a “natural disaster”, this is a result of very concrete politics that can be traced back to the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.
(A significant number of refugees into Europe also come from Africa.

This crisis displays the same attitude of dominance by the "core" countries over the "periphery" that we see in the euro crisis. It is the same extend-and-pretend approach of creating short-term mitigation solutions that actually deepen the underlying crisis and make it more intractable. It's the same attitude of nationalist particularism that we see in the euro crisis exercised by the "core" countries against the "periphery."

The Merkel-friendly German President (head of state), Joachim Gauck, made a public intervention to criticize the language used by some of Merkel's CDU officials, notably Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble. Gauck warned against using "horror scenarios" and inflammatory anti-immigrant rhetoric. Schäuble, pandering to xenophobic sentiment, recently compared the inflkux of refugees to an avalanche into a valley. (Florian Gathmann und Philipp Wittrock, Schäubles Lawinen-Vergleich: Der Polarisierer Spiegel Online 12.11.2015)

After getting favorable and gullible press coverage for her announcement in September that refugees were welcome in German and playing the "compassionate pastor's daughter" (mitfühlende Pastorentochter), Merkel's government has now agreed to attempt to go back to the "Dublin III" approach, in which refugees would be contained in the EU countries in which they first arrived. Germany could then play the high-minded, compassionate power while the refugees were stuffed into inadequate processing centers which the receiving countries like Greece don't have the resources to manage properly. (Jürgen Klöckner, Warum die Regierung den heimlichen Kurswechsel in der Flüchtlingskrise kleinredet Huffington Post Deutschland 11/11/2015)

The SPD leadership is perfectly happy with this arrangement and are faithfully supporting the mitfühlende Pastorentochter as she panders to xenophobes with that policy. Meanwhile, her own party (CDU/CSU) gets to demand harsher measures against the refugees. Klöckner writes, "In diesen Tagen scheint es, als habe die Kanzlerin mehr Unterstützer in der SPD als in den eigenen Reihen." ("These days, it seems as though the Chancellor [Merkel] has more supporters in the SPD than in her own ranks.") Can the SPD get any more pitiful? Sadly, they probably can.

Martin Scultz is a German Social Democrat who is currently the President of the European Parliament. He is also a shameless Angie-bot. He echoes Merkel's demand for other countries to take on more refugees, a reasonable demand in itself: "Das größte Problem, das wir zur Zeit haben, ist, dass viel versprochen und wenig eingehalten wird", he says. ("The biggest problem we have right now is that a lot is promised but little carried out.") (EU-Parlamentspräsident zur Flüchtlingskrise: "Viel versprochen und wenig eingehalten" Spiegel Online 11.11.2015)

It's worth repeating that Merkel's September announcement was a typical Merkel extend-and-pretend move. It made her look like a generous and responsible leader to people who weren't paying close attention to the years-long refugee crisis. But it wasn't well thought out. And it was a substitute for the failure of the EU leadership, especially the EU's dominant power Germany, to address the problem in a sufficient way. And now her government is already trying to go back to the previous failed system of control.

The idea of confining them to refugee camps for extended periods isn't a good one. The camps now are often overcrowded and dangerous. (Peter Maxwill, Geschlecht und Asyl: Frauen und Kinder zuletzt Spiegel Online 09.09.2015)

Spiegel Online has a page listing key factual points out the refugee crisis, Asyl und Einwanderung: Fakten zur Flüchtlingskrise - endlich verständlich Spiegel Online; accessed 11/12/2015.

BBC News has some general information and graphics on the crisis: Migrant crisis: Migration to Europe explained in graphics 11/09/2015

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Win for democracy, how will Merkel react?

The majority in the Portuguese Parliament on Tuesday staged a revolt against the minority government kept in office by the President in order to maintain the austerity policies insisted upon by Berlin.

As the BBC News Portugal's left-wing opposition topples minority government 11/10/2015 reports:

Portugal's government has been toppled less than two weeks after taking power after left-wing opponents rejected its programme in parliament.

A centre-right coalition won the most votes in October's election but lost its overall majority.

A new leftist bloc has now voted 123 to 107 against the administration's programme, prompting its collapse.

The move could lead to a new government led by the Socialist Party, likely to focus on alleviating austerity.

Deutsche Welle also reports on the parliamentary vote, In Portugal, left-wing opposition topples government in no-confidence vote 10.11.2015

If the leftist alliance forms a new government, it would be the first ruling coalition to include the Communists and the Left Bloc in the modern political history of Portugal. The country only returned to democracy in 1974, after decades of right-wing dictatorship.

Portugal's president, Anibal Cavaco Silvo, must first meet with party representatives before any change to the government can take place. Until then, the prime minister will remain in power.

Portugal requested a 78-billion-euro ($88-billion) bailout in 2011 and only left the scheme in May 2014, with the previous Coelho administration pushing through harsh budget cuts. ...

The opposition lawmakers intend to roll back tax cuts, as well as cuts in pay, pensions and public services. They also speculated about restoring several public holidays that were cut to boost productivity.
It remains to be seen if Angela Merkel's government will retaliate against the new majority bloc because they want to defy her austerity dictates.

Spiegel Online reports in Misstrauensvotum: Linke Opposition stürzt Portugals Regierung 10.11.2015 that between 2010 and 2014, the percentage of the government's budget dropped from over 11% of GDP to 4.5%. So while Portugal was hammered by the post-2008 depression in the eurozone periphery, it was also drastically withdrawing the stimulus provided by government spending. That's the Herbert Hoover austerity program on which Merkel's government insisted. It acted in a procyclical way, i.e., it made the depression worse.