Foreign Policy

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Wednesday: Not the Shape


I know that the spades are the swords of a soldier
I know that the clubs are weapons of war
I know that diamonds mean money for this art
But that’s not the shape of my heart


— excerpt, Shape of My Heart by Sting and Dominic Miller, 1993

After reading deeply about so many people suffering, I’m falling back on the equivalent of musical comfort food. A double helping as this Sting song is one of my favorites, performed here by some of my favorite musicians.

Suffer the little children

  • U.N. Commission of Inquiry reports Yazidis erased by ISIS (OHCHR) — The UN’s independent international Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic published “They Came to Destroy: ISIS Crimes Against the Yazidis” on June 16 but media outlets are only now reporting on the inquiry’s findings. ISIS has violated the 1948 Genocide Convention, by

    “ISIS has sought to erase the Yazidis through killings; sexual slavery, enslavement, torture and inhuman and degrading treatment and forcible transfer causing serious bodily and mental harm; the infliction of conditions of life that bring about a slow death; the imposition of measures to prevent Yazidi children from being born, including forced conversion of adults, the separation of Yazidi men and women, and mental trauma; and the transfer of Yazidi children from their own families and placing them with ISIS fighters, thereby cutting them off from beliefs and practices of their own religious community”

    Seven weeks later mainstream media finally gets around to covering this report. I wonder how many more Yazidis have died or been degraded and tortured in that time. And I wonder if we’ll ever do anything constructive to halt the elimination of this people by a non-state (or state) actor. Before ISIS began its assault on the Yazidi, there were an estimated 800K to 1.5 million of them.

  • Australia continues to ignore plight of refugees on Nauru (HRW) — Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International investigated the conditions of refugees held on Pacific Island of Nauru, to which Australia shunts ayslum seekers and refugees from other countries. In spite of earlier investigations over the last 15 months and subsequent demands for improvements by the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), a Senate Select Committee, and an independent investigator, Australia continues to do nothing about the appalling and abusive conditions on Nauru. The gross neglect is now policy by default.
  • Czech president wants to reject all refugees (Deutsche Welle) — Milos Zeman has always talked anti-Nazi, but on the matter of EU’s policy on refugees he sounds like he’s done a 180 degree turn. His spokeman claims this position is based on terrorism:
    “Our country simply cannot afford to risk terrorist attacks like what occurred in France and Germany. By accepting migrants, we would create fertile ground for barbaric attacks…”

    In opposition to Zeman, Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka has agreed to take 80 Syrian refugees. That’s far more than the U.S. has accepted on a proportional basis; we killed more Syrian civilians this month than that number.

Reading the Classics
From Sententiae Antiquae, Corrupt Leaders Make Corrupt Countries: An Ancient Course on Leadership. Nothing new under the sun; sure looks like we’ve debated this topic for millennia.

I like this bit by the Greek writer Onasander particularly:

…οὐδὲ χωρὶς στρατηγῶν οὐδὲ μία πόλις ἐκπέμψει στρατόπεδον, οὐδὲ δίχα τοῦ δύνασθαι λέγειν αἱρήσεται στρατηγόν.

…No land nor city will field an army without generals nor even choose a general who cannot speak effectively.

How do you say, “Wishful thinking” in ancient Greek?

Reindeer games here tomorrow, in spite of the season. See you then.

Tuesday: Allez Vous F

J’adore Stromae. I’m not in the hip hop demographic, but Stromae — whose real name is Paul Van Haver — pulls me in. This multi-talented artist born to a Rwandan father and a Belgian mother pulls together multiple genres of music laced with compelling au courant lyrics presented with stunning visual effects — how could I not love him?

This particular song, Papatouai, has a strong psychic undertow. This song asks where Papa is; the lyrics and video suggest an emotionally or physically distant father. Van Haver’s own father was killed in the Rwandan genocide when he was not yet ten years old. Is this song about his own father, or about inaccessible fathers in general? The use of older African jazz rhythms emphasizes retrospection suggesting a look backward rather than forward for the missing father figure(s). More than a third of a billion views for this video say something important about its themes.

Much of Stromae’s work is strongly political, but it conveys the difficulty of youth who are multi-racial/multi-ethnic unsatisfied with the binaries and economic injustices forced on them by oldsters. A favorite among kids I know is AVF (Allez Vous Faire):

“Allez vous faire!”
Toujours les mêmes discours, toujours les mêmes airs,
Hollande, Belgique, France austère.
Gauches, ou libéraux, avant-centres ou centristes,
Ça m’est égal, tous aussi démagos que des artistes.


Go fuck yourselves!
Always the same words, always the same airs.
Holland, Belgium, France, austere.
Right or Left? Moderate or Extremist?
They’re all the same to me – the demagogues and the artists.

Remarquable et pertinent, non? I’m also crazy about Tous Les Mêmes, a trans- and cis-feminist song with a marvelous old school Latin beat simmering with frustration. But there’s not much I don’t like by Stromae; I can’t name a song I wouldn’t listen to again and again.

If you’re ready for more Stromae, try his concert recorded in Montreal this past winter. So good.

Expedition to the Cyber Pass

  • UK wireless firm O2 customer data breached and sold (BBC) — O2 customers who were gamers at XSplit had their O2 account data stolen. The approach used, credential stuffing, relies on users who employ the same password at multiple sites. Wonder how Verizon’s recent hiring of O2’s CEO Ronan Dunne will play out during the integration of Yahoo into Verizon’s corporate fold, given Verizon’s data breach? Will Dunne insist on mandatory 2FA policy and insure Verizon and Yahoo accounts can’t use the same passwords?
  • Speaking of Yahoo: 200 million credentials for sale (Motherboard) — Yahoo’s Tumblr had already been involved in a massive breach, now there’s Yahoo accounts available on the dark web. Given the Verizon breach already mentioned, it’s just a matter of time before these accounts are cross-matched for criminal use.
  • Oracle’s not-so-good-very-bad-too-many 276 vulnerabilities patched (Threatpost) — Whew. Two. Hundred. Seventy. Six. That’s a lot of risk. Good they’re all patched, but wow, how did Oracle end up with so many to begin with? Some of them are in products once owned by Sun Microsystems, including Java. Maybe Oracle ought to rethink Java’s licensing and work with the software community to develop a better approach to patching Java?
  • F-35 ready, says USAF — kind of (Bloomberg) — Massively expensive combat jet now up for ‘limited combat use’, except…
    The initial aircraft won’t have all the electronic combat, data fusion, weapons capacity or automated maintenance and diagnostics capabilities until the most advanced version of its complex software is fielded by 2018.

    Uh, what the hell did we spend a gazillion-plus bucks on if we don’t have aircraft with competitive working electronics?

Light load today, busy here between getting youngest ready for college and primary day in Michigan. YES, YOU, MICHIGANDER, GO VOTE IN THE PRIMARY! Polls close at 8:00 p.m. EDT, you still have time — check your party for write-in candidates. You can check your registration, precinct, ballot at this MI-SOS link.

The rest of you: check your own state’s primary date and registration deadlines. Scoot!

Monday: Grey Bull

Hope you have some free time today to enjoy this short film. Grey Bull by Khoby runs 15 minutes long, but worth it. Its pace is slow, but the emotions this short musters are full and richly explored. I look forward to more from filmmaker Khoby.

Energy escapades
NV ENERGY: Last Friday I posted a link to a story about Nevada’s governor replacing a member of the Public Utilities Commission as a result of costly barriers to residential solar energy integration. Commenter jo6pac pointed out that Berkshire Hathaway-owned NV Energy (NVE) has been part of the challenge to increasing the use of individual residential solar-generated electricity in NV. I thought there was another electricity provider in Nevada besides NVE given the number of businesses switching from NVE. It’s a challenge, though, if NVE has near-monopolistic position in the state’s electricity market, especially since NVE has the second highest residential rates for electricity in the mountain west region.

But that’s only part of NV’s problem. Like much of the U.S., NV must phase out of fossil fuels like coal and gas — NVE’s standard energy mix relies on 75% or more fossil fuels. As a nation we’re not talking enough about exiting fossil fuels, and how to prevent economic damage while winding down an entire industry in the case of coal. The public does not owe corporations guaranteed profits, but there is a compelling reason for the state to minimize damage to the public’s interests by ensuring coal does not crash.

Putting aside that rather large topic, Friday’s story is really the inversion — it’s not the lone PUC commissioner who might have been batting for NVE, but the largest industry in the state damaged by electricity monopoly and using its power to persuade regulatory change.

This January 2016 article explains a lot: casinos want to exit NV Energy for another provider, but they are being assessed enormous exit fees over which they are suing. More than $100 million in fees between three casinos is a lot of pressure to remain with the status quo.

We’re entering a phase where electricity attains commodification — any supplier will do, and the user should be able to freely switch — but the traditional infrastructure based on coal and other fossil fuel sources with steep and long-term sunk costs can’t compete with commodified alternative energy suppliers. It’s a challenge not unlike the transition from brick-and-mortar retail to e-tail, or newsprint to online news. The legacy system must give way, but it’s going to hurt when there is little forethought put into the transition. Nevada’s PUC is in for a very rough ride.

SOLARCITY: Tesla announced it’s buying out all of the solar power systems company for a price $200 million below its initial offer last month. While SolarCity’s headquarters are in San Mateo, California, after the merger it will have battery production facilities in the Gigafactory under construction near Reno, Nevada. Last year the SolarCity sued Salt River Project (SRP) claiming SRP’s increased rates for residential solar energy users violated antitrust laws since the consumers could not leave SRP’s portion of the grid.

Which sounds a lot like the situation in the rest of Nevada where NVE charges higher rates for residential users who install solar panels as jo6pac pointed out (more in NYT via bloopie2). Is there another antitrust suit in the offing? Or will billionaires Elon Musk of Tesla and Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway have a meeting of the minds?

Frightening flooding

Troubled Turkey

That’s it for Monday, only one more month before Congress returns to DC. See you tomorrow!

Friday: Possibility

Let’s try a Swedish import today, a little something I can’t really classify by a particular genre. This piece is one of my favorites, one of the most haunting tunes I’ve ever heard. It’s probably dream pop for lack of a better label. Lykke Li’s most popular works tend toward indie and synth-pop, sharing a strong rhythm and English lyrics melded with Lykke Li’s unearthly vocals.

Try out I Follow Rivers (dance/synth-pop) and Sadness Is A Blessing (retro indie pop) for comparison. The latter in particular has a funky video featuring another famous Swedish artist, Stellan Skarsgård. Love his understated effort which acts like a punctuation to the singer’s work.

Speaking of Sweden…

Carl Bildt, a former prime minister of Sweden (1991-1994) and former Minister for Foreign Affairs (2006-2014), tweeted on Wednesday:

I never thought a serious candidate for US President could be a serious threat against the security of the West. But that’s where we are.

Bildt is known for his conservative politics and neoliberal business ethics. Pretty sure he wasn’t referring to Clinton.

Turkic troubles

  • Insane numbers of people arrested or detained after Turkey’s anti-Gülenist crackdown (EWN) — Graphic in article offers a breakdown. Doesn’t break out the journalists arrested; see Mahir Zeynalov’s timeline for a journo-by-journo roll call.
  • UN Special Rapporteur and OSCE worried about Turkey’s journalists (OSCE) — UN Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Representative on Freedom of the Media condemned President Erdoğan’s purge of journalism attacking free speech. The numbers bolster their concerns:
    Reports indicate that the Government ordered the closure of three news agencies, 16 TV channels, 23 radio channels, 45 papers and 15 magazines. Since the attempted coup, authorities have issued arrest warrants against 89 journalists and have already arrested several of them, blocked access to more than 20 news websites, revoked the licenses of 29 publishing houses, and cancelled a number of press accreditations.

  • Generals stepped down as military rejiggered (Euronews) — Looks like the president is grabbing power over the military in the same way the judiciary’s independence has now been smashed by removals from office. Hey, anybody worried at all about Incirlik air base while the Turkish military is reformulated?

Economic emesis

  • Investors ‘totally lost’ (Business Insider) — Credit Suisse’s clients are casting about for direction because there’s no strong performance in the market across any industry, and indicators are confusing:
    Here’s a summary of what clients are worried about: workers fighting back in the US, hitting earnings; equities still not cheap; US growth mixed; China still screwed; central banks’ empty policy cupboards; politics being nuts (protectionism, anti-immigration moves, anticorporate feeling); and technology running rampant and destroying business models.

    Yeah, about the “workers fighting back”…perhaps if workers were better paid, making a living wage, all of the confusion would evaporate as consumption improved. There’s a reason home ownership rates have dropped below 1965 levels and it’s not because Millennials don’t want them (really crappy blame-casting, CNBC, catch the cluestick).

  • Nevada utilities commish not reappointed due to solar energy rate structure (Las Vegas Sun) — Something about this story tweaks my hinky-meter. Maybe a certain commissioner has friends who don’t want solar energy to become competitive? Which is really a shame considering the Tesla’s new Wonderwall battery plant now in the Reno area.
  • Five-year-long shortage of cancer drug forces reliance on disqualified Chinese maker (Bloomberg) — There’s been a shortage of doxorubicin since 2011, and companies the size of Pfizer — the largest pharma company in the world — rely on a facility in China banned by the FDA because of quality problems like contamination. What the hell is wrong with this picture?
  • Kazahk emigre sentenced for export violations (The Hill) — How did this guy pull off exporting dual-use technology to Russia for ten years? Doesn’t look like it took much effort based on available information. Have we cut regulatory oversight so much and been so distracted at the same time that we’ve given away the farm?

Something STEMmed

  • TSA’s keys compromised (TechCrunch) — Hacking’s not just for software. All seven of TSA’s master keys have been cloned; anybody can 3D print one and unlock baggage with TSA-approved padlock. Why even bother locking stuff? Of course bags can be so damaged during handling the lock may be worthless anyhow. Makes you wonder how many other physical security devices can be defeated with 3D printing.
  • Bees’ sperm dramatically affected by insecticides (SFGate) — Hey dudes, especially you in Congress. Maybe you ought to ask if insecticides reduce bees’ sperm production by 40% whether human sperm might also be similarly affected? Just sayin’.
  • Huge great white shark trolls family’s boat off east coast (Cape Cod Chronicle) — But there’s an app for that; they could ‘see’ him coming, thanks to an app which monitored the tag. Mixed feelings on this: glad the family was safe, but jeepers, how else can this tag be used?

Oikonomia
How screwed up is the United Kingdom post-referendum vote and how jacked up is the current economic system, when a disabled theoretical physicist and cosmologist must beg in an op-ed for his country to reconsider its understanding and reaction to wealth?

Worth recalling the word ‘economics’ originated from the Greek ‘oikonomia’, meaning “household management.”

Have a safe, relaxing weekend!

Tuesday: Crazy


Come on now, who do you, who do you, who do you, who do you think you are,
Ha ha ha bless your soul
You really think you’re in control

Well, I think you’re crazy
I think you’re crazy
I think you’re crazy
Just like me


— excerpt, Crazy by Gnarls Barkley

Why’d I pick this song today? Oh, no reason. Just kind of popped into my head while I was reading through my aggregators.

Ahem. Anyhow…not much time again today, lot of hurry-up-and-wait stuff demanding my time.

Turkey curry buffet

Quick lap around the track

  • BREXIT: IMF cuts UK’s growth forecast (The Guardian) — Really, what the hell did the Leavers expect? Put the brain trust and creative sector into a tailspin as so many are immigrants, and ask them to sustain or expand growth? Completely unrealistic.
  • US-UK RELATIONS: Presser today with Johnson and Kerry (The Guardian) — You watch it. I can’t even with that lying hack Johnson — he spun more crap right to journos’s faces. And nobody takes these two to task over most recent bombings in Syria or Yemen.
  • ZIKA: CDC studying unusual case of UT caretaker infected by Zika (CDC.gov) — The elderly Utah man who died of Zika recently somehow infected his caretaker with the virus without sexual contact. Mosquitoes may have been involved, but UT isn’t home to known carriers Aedes aegypti and albopictus species. The deceased, however, had a viral load 100,000 times greater than the average Zika patient. What?!
  • EARTHQUAKES: Earthquake swarm continues in San Benito County, California (NBC Bay Area) — 24 quakes in 24 hours based on report published about two hours ago. The affected area is west of Silicon Valley and the San Andreas fault line.
  • POLICE REFORMS: Hire more women: one of several known solutions to police racism and abuse (Yes! Magazine) — Take note of the gender of police accused and charged with abuse and killing of unarmed civilians. Body cameras, greater diversity matching community, and openness to research also included in solutions.

That’s all I have time for now. See you tomorrow!

You, Too, Armenia?

By Captain Blood - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=645273

By Captain Blood – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=645273

Come on, give us a break, will you? Most of us are still digging out of news on France’s latest terror attack, the 28-pages released on Friday, and Turkey’s so-called coup. Couldn’t you wait until later this coming week?

Apparently not.

Reliable reports are even more scarce than for Turkey as Armenia is even more aggressive in its monitoring and policing of social media. What reports have emerged indicate an organized, armed hostage-taking event demanding the release of a political prisoner rather than a coup.

Persons identified as opposition sympathizers have been taken into custody; numbers taken by law enforcement or military are not available. Police snipers appear in photos.

Armenian media had not been reporting on the event and social media content is rather thin. Some Twitter accounts claim social media is not throttled, but these same accounts may be operated by government agents.

Latest reports indicate state forces are on standby, ‘pending orders for action‘.

Meanwhile, in Turkey...

The Turkish commander of Incirlik air base was taken into custody on charges of complicity with the insurgents — some reports say ‘detained’, others say ‘arrested’.

Roughly 24 hours ago, power had been cut to the air base and flights in and out suspended. The Turkish government suspected the base had been used for fueling so-called rebel aircraft. Flights for anti-ISIS efforts resumed a little over an hour ago.

Erdoğan’s government has now rounded up approximately 6000 on suspicion of complicity with the so-called coup. President Erdoğan is calling for the return of the death penalty. Application of the death penalty could halt Turkey’s accession to the EU as the death penalty is illegal under EU laws.

I won’t even get in to the weirdness of Erdoğan’s claims the coup was led by an ex-pat moderate cleric living in Pennsylvania’s Poconos. Or the empty gestures of UK’s new foreign secretary about the events in Turkey.

(Personally, I find it really hard to believe a conspiracy of ~6000 persons would be completely undetectable in advance.)

It’s nearly 2:00 a.m. local time in Tokyo. The Nikkei 225 opens in seven hours. Watch oil and natural gas prices. Who might benefit from all this volatility?

Stuffing Turkey

By Maurice07 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22784526

By Maurice07 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22784526

Watching events unfold in Turkey last night was surreal. It was difficult to tell the various players apart, let alone pick credible voices.

By midnight EDT I was skeptical — more than I usually am.

— President Tayyip Erdoğan was allegedly in the air at some point, allegedly asked for asylum in Germany which allegedly wasn’t granted. He allegedly flew back into Istanbul airport. Did he not seek asylum anywhere else?

— Social media was throttled or shut off in some reports, but Erdoğan managed to Facetime to an audience which is ostensibly throttled, in order to call them to defend him by rallying in the streets.

— Fighter jets and armed helicopters were flying overhead, but Erdoğan called civilians to rally in the streets? Some civilians were killed by aircraft firing on them after Erdoğan’s call to rally.

— No political party claimed responsibility for the relatively small number of “insurgents” conducting the coup. For some reason, the military members responsible for the coup undressed and disarmed on the Bosphorus bridge.

— Earlier today, Erdoğan removed 2,745 prosecutor and judges from duty.

— Reports claim U.S. intelligence was taken by surprise by the coup.

Electricity has been cut to the U.S. Incirlik air force base, where a number of nuclear gravity bombs are kept. The bombs are not an immediate threat (read the thread at that link), but who knows this?

Let’s not forget the recent attack on the Istanbul airport, responsibility for which has only been assigned by Turkish officials.

The whole thing stinks, like a Thanksgiving Day bird left out of the fridge a couple days too long.

NATO and Brexit

For the record, I think it quite likely that UK’s Tories will never trigger Article 50, which would mean the two year process of leaving the EU will never start much less finish. If that happens, we will face an increasing game of chicken between the EU — primarily Germany — and the UK, because until things settle with the UK, other right wing parties will call to Exit the EU.

All that said, I want to consider what a UK exit would mean for security, particularly as regards to the balance between privacy and dragnettery in which the EU has, in recent years, played a key but largely ineffectual role.

From a spying perspective, Brexit came just hours after the US and EU finalized a draft of the Privacy Shield that will replace the Safe Harbor agreement next week. When I read it, I wondered whether the US signed it intended to do some data analysis in the UK, an option that will likely become unavailable if and when the UK actually does leave the EU. Amazingly, the UK’s hawkish Home Secretary Theresa May (who in the past has called for the UK to leave the ECHR) is considered a favorite to replace David Cameron as the Tory Prime Minister, which would be like Jim Comey serving as President. The UK will still need to sign its own IP Bill, which will expand what is authorized spying in the UK.

But all that assumes the relative structure of nesting alliances will remain the same if and when the UK departs the EU. And I don’t think that will happen. On the contrary, I think the US will use the UK’s departure — and security concerns including both a confrontational expanding Russia and the threat of terrorism — to push to give NATO an enhanced role off what it has.

Consider what Obama said in his initial statement about Brexit [my emphasis in all these passages],

The people of the United Kingdom have spoken, and we respect their decision. The special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom is enduring, and the United Kingdom’s membership in NATO remains a vital cornerstone of U.S. foreign, security, and economic policy. So too is our relationship with the European Union, which has done so much to promote stability, stimulate economic growth, and foster the spread of democratic values and ideals across the continent and beyond. The United Kingdom and the European Union will remain indispensable partners of the United States even as they begin negotiating their ongoing relationship to ensure continued stability, security, and prosperity for Europe, Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the world.

To Cameron,

President Obama spoke by phone today with Prime Minister David Cameron of the United Kingdom to discuss the outcome of yesterday’s referendum on membership in the European Union, in which a majority of British voters expressed their desire to leave the EU. The President assured Prime Minister Cameron that, in spite of the outcome, the special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom, along with the United Kingdom’s membership in NATO, remain vital cornerstones of U.S. foreign, security, and economic policy. The President also expressed his regret at the Prime Minister’s decision to step aside following a leadership transition and noted that the Prime Minister has been a trusted partner and friend, whose counsel and shared dedication to democratic values, the special relationship, and the Transatlantic community are highly valued. The President also observed that the EU, which has done so much to promote stability, stimulate economic growth, and foster the spread of democratic values and ideals across the continent and beyond, will remain an indispensable partner of the United States. The President and Prime Minister concurred that they are confident that the United Kingdom and the EU will negotiate a productive way forward to ensure financial stability, continued trade and investment, and the mutual prosperity they bring.

And to Merkel,

The President spoke today by phone with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany regarding the British people’s decision to leave the European Union. Both said they regretted the decision but respected the will of the British people. The two leaders agreed that the economic and financial teams of the G-7 partners will coordinate closely to ensure all are focused on financial stability and economic growth. The President and the Chancellor affirmed that Germany and the EU will remain indispensable partners of the United States. The leaders also noted that they looked forward to the opportunity to underscore the strength and enduring bond of transatlantic ties at the NATO Summit in Warsaw, Poland, July 8-9.

NATO, NATO, NATO.

John Kerry and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg seem to echo that viewpoint, with Stoltenberg arguing NATO will become more important.

“We have high expectations of a very strong NATO meeting and important deliverables,” Kerry said of the summit planned for Warsaw on July 8-9. “That will not change one iota as a consequence of the vote that has taken place.”

Kerry, who is on a lightning tour of Brussels and London intended to reassure U.S. allies following the British vote, noted that 22 EU nations, including Britain, are part of NATO.

In Brussels Kerry met NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and EU foreign policy chief Frederica Mogherini.

“After the UK decided to leave the European Union I think that NATO has become even more important as a platform for cooperation between Europe and North America but also defence and security cooperation between European NATO allies,” said Stoltenberg, whose own country Norway is in NATO but not the EU.

Retired Admiral Stavridis provides a list of four reasons why Brexit will strengthen NATO.

  1. Putin’s adventurism: “NATO has provided the most resolute military balance against [Russia], and thus its stock can be expected to rise with publics in Europe.”
  2. UK manpower will be freed up from EU tasks: UK “will have additional ships, troops, and aircraft to deploy on NATO missions because they will not have to support EU military efforts such as the counter-piracy operations off the coast of East Africa or EU missions in the Balkans.”
  3. By losing the UK’s military power, the EU will become even more of a soft power entity ceding real military activities to NATO. “And, given that European military efforts will be greatly diminished by the loss of British military muscle, the EU can be expected to defer to NATO more frequently.”
  4. The UK will have to prove itself in NATO to retain its “special relationship.” UK “will have to look for new ways to demonstrate value in its partnership with the United States if it hopes to maintain anything like the “special relationship” it has become accustomed to (and dependent on).”

It’s actually the third* bullet that I think will be key — and it will be carried over into spying. Without the UK, the EU doesn’t have the capability to defend itself, so it will be more dependent on NATO than it had been. Similarly, without GCHQ, the EU doesn’t have heightened SIGINT power to surveil its own population. And so — I fear — whereas prior to Brexit the EU (and Germany specifically) would at least make a show of pushing back against US demands in exchange for protection, particularly given the heightened security concerns, everyone will be less willing to push back.

It’s unclear whether Brexit (if it happens) will hurt the UK or EU more. It probably won’t hurt the US as much as any entity in Europe. It might provide the trigger for the dismantling of the EU generally.

I think it very likely it will shift Trans-Atlantic relationships, among all parties, to a much more militaristic footing. That’s dangerous — especially as things heat up with Russia. And the countervailing human rights influence of the EU will be weakened.

But I think the US will gain power, relatively, out it.

Update: I originally said “fourth” bullet but meant third. Also, I originally said an “expanding” Russia, which I changed because with the coup in Ukraine I think the “west” started the expansionary push.

Update: This piece games out a number of possibilities on data protection.

Friday: There’s Always The Second Line

After the shock, denial, horror, anger, and grief of death, there’s always the second line. Seems fitting today in the wake of Brexit to observe the passing of an ideal — a United Kingdom, in harmony with its European neighbors and allies — that we have a second line.

You’re probably familiar with the imagery of the second line, a New Orleans tradition in which a jazz band plays for a funeral procession after the mourners have buried the dead. The history of the second line isn’t clear in no small part because it originated among the African diaspora and the creole community, whose cultural history is poorly documented because of race. The second line was the other face of death — the celebration of the departed’s arrival at better world beyond the reach of the living. Over the last hundred years, the second line became a community event not confined to funeral processions alone. Sunday afternoons revolved around street parties centered on the local Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs and Benevolent Societies from which many brass jazz bands emerged as a part of the services offered through their co-op funeral insurance.

The video embedded here is more of a traditional blues dirge among second line tunes, but it might be played before or after the funeral. This video, however, shares music with true second line spirit, recorded as an observation of the passing year. And this second line following the funeral of Ernest “Doc” Watson is the definitive example.

Best jazz I can do post-Brexit referendum.

Brexit Backwash

  • What’s next after the referendum?  (EU Law Analysis) — First snappy overview of the legal steps Britain will take, by Professor of EU and Human Rights Law at the University of Essex. More emphasis here on pertinent human rights issues.
  • What’s next after the referendum, redux? (Public Law for Everyone) — Second equally snappy overview of the legal steps Britain will take, this time by Mark Elliott, Professor of Public Law at the University of Cambridge, Fellow of St Catharine’s College, Cambridge, and Legal Adviser to the House of Lords Select Committee on the Constitution.
  • EU’s disintegration will still affect UK in spite of Brexit (The Guardian) — Cripes, did none of the UK’s Eton elites or the white nationalists think to listen to Yanis Varoufakis, former Finance Minister to Greece during Grexit? This op-ed is grim and frank — Varoufakis is plain-spoken. Reading it only makes me more certain the EU will utterly abandon comprehensive emissions controls for the region, and Volkswagen’s fraudulent passenger diesels will never leave the bloody roads.
  • Jo Cox’s death and Brexit (The New Yorker) — If aren’t already sickened by either Brexit or the murder of MP Jo Cox eight days ago, read this. Guess how her constituency voted.
  • Brexit’s future impact on British cuisine (Europa) — European cook Thom Eagle looks at the effect Brexit will have on what he does, from Spanish olive oil to French mushrooms. Hard to imagine the soft-handed elitist prats wanting to go back to Heinz canned beans on toast. Oh wait, UK doesn’t grow much of its own wheat. Beans it is…nuts, they import those from the U.S., many of them from Michigan.
  • Speaking of which, Brexit’s affect on Michigan (Detroit Free Press) — Michigan may well be one of the states Brexit affects most, given the existence of General Motors’ plants in the UK and the UK market for automobiles. UK bought more than Brazil or Germany from GM last year, but the cost to continue operations in UK…oy.

Legal and other la-la

  • SCOTUS ruling on Abigail “#BeckyWithTheBadGrades” Fisher and why it matters (The Establishment) — In SCOTUS ruling this week on Fisher v. University of Texas, UT-Austin had not only ensured true meritocracy by accepting the top 10% of students from each high school without regard for any other criteria, but they built a strong justification for selectivity of other students. Fisher, in spite of having the advantages that come from being white and adequately resourced, simply didn’t make the top 10% at her school in a year when admission was incredibly competitive, AND she brought nothing else to the school to benefit other students.
  • Split decision upholds lower court ruling reinforcing tribal sovereignty (Bitch Media) — If you commit a crime on tribal lands even if you’re not a Native American, expect an American Indian tribe to file civil suit. Simple as that. In this case, if s a child molester working for Dollar General molests a child on Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians’ tribal lands, the Choctaws can file against the perp and employer regardless of non-native status.
  • Marginalization of poor white Americans (Pacific Standard) — The U.S version of Brexit could be built on this segment of the population, which feels left out by efforts to increase equality for minorities. Point taken, but somebody’s going to have to write the bridge out of this pity party for people who constantly vote against their best interests, and discuss intersectionality in raising equality across the population.

Weekend long read
Governor Jerry Brown reviews a new book by former Secretary of Defense William J. Perry. My Journey at the Nuclear Brink is some eyebrow-raising stuff.

That’s a wrap on a particularly grueling week. Have a nice weekend.

Military Keynsianism, American Exceptionalism, and Trump

This Chas Freeman piece, The End of the American Empire, has gotten a lot of attention since it got posted yesterday. He talks about several key issues, starting with how counterproductive our “sphere of influence” Empire, which brings an expectation we can dictate the rules for all other countries (save China and Russia, and — I’d add — until recent successes in undermining Bolivarism, parts of South America) around the world.

The notion of a sphere of influence that is global except for a few no-go zones in Russia and China is now so deeply ingrained in the American psyche that our politicians think it entirely natural to make a number of far-reaching assertions, like these:

(1) The world is desperate for Americans to lead it by making the rules, regulating global public goods, policing the global commons, and doing in “bad guys” everywhere by whatever means our president considers most expedient.

(2) America is losing influence by not putting more boots on the ground in more places.

(3) The United States is the indispensable arbiter of what the world’s international financial institutions should do and how they should do it.

(4)  Even if they change, American values always represent universal norms, from which other cultures deviate at their peril. Thus, profanity, sacrilege, and blasphemy — all of which were not so long ago anathema to Americans — are now basic human rights to be insisted upon internationally. So are homosexuality, climate change denial, the sale of genetically modified foodstuffs, and the consumption of alcohol.

These American conceits are, of course, delusional. They are all the more unpersuasive to foreigners because everyone can see that America is now in a schizophrenic muddle — able to open fire at perceived enemies, but delusional, distracted, and internally divided to the point of political paralysis.

This sphere of influence Empire, on top of being horrible for the rest of the world, is also sucking the US dry internally.

Diplomacy-free foreign policy blows up enough things to liven up the TV news, but it generates terrorist blowback and it is expensive. There is a direct line of causation between European and American interventions in the Middle East and the bombings in Boston, Paris, and Brussels as well as the flood of refugees now inundating Europe. And so far this century, we’ve racked up over $6 trillion in outlays and future financial obligations in wars that fail to achieve much, if anything, other than breeding anti-American terrorists with global reach.

We borrowed the money to conduct these military activities abroad at the expense of investing in our homeland. What we have to show for staggering additions to our national debt is falling living standards for all but the “one percent,” a shrinking middle class, a rising fear of terrorism, rotting infrastructure, unattended forest fires, and eroding civil liberties. Yet, with the notable exception of Bernie Sanders, every major party candidate for president promises not just to continue — but to double down on — the policies that produced this mess.

[snip]

Whatever the cure for our foul mood and foreigners’ doubts about us may be, it is not spending more money on our armed forces, piling up more debt with military Keynesianism, or pretending that the world yearns for us to make all its decisions for it or to be its policeman.

As it happens, I’m also reading Greg Grandin’s biography (I think the better description is “intellectual history”) of Henry Kissinger, which I also recommend. Grandin portrays Kissinger (a New Left figure with an old right morality or lack thereof, Grandin suggests) as the cornerstone for this process, down to what Freeman points to as one key problem with our Empire, that it gets run out of the National Security Council. I’m just part way in, but Grandin describes how Kissinger, partly in a bid to remain in Nixon’s good graces, packaged a bunch of foreign intervention (and because it’s Kissinger, outright genocide) for domestic consumption. We extended the Vietnam War to Cambodia and Laos not for strategic reasons but for domestic political consumption, dead protestors notwithstanding.

Both pieces resonate with something I’ve increasingly been thinking: that what gets called American Exceptionalism — which is really the sphere of influence Freeman describes packaged up under an always dubious and increasingly tarnished moral claim to authority — significantly served a domestic purpose (though it also served to accrue power for America’s elites, including its big corporations): to make Americans content with their lives, even if we never got the kind of social welfare that Europe instituted after World War II.

Europe got universal healthcare. We got the right to claim ourselves morally superior to the rest of the world, even if we paid more for crappy health insurance.

I’d add something neither man focuses on: American exceptionalism always has a domestic component, which largely involves white people (especially men) lording over people of color.

I raise all this because it’s something I’ve been thinking about increasingly this election year, to explain Trump especially, but also the counter-establishment mood generally. I think the electorate really consists of three blocks: Trump voters who want to reclaim the privileges of American exceptionalism for their own benefit (which is why his supporters so often express their outrage in terms of race, because exceptionalism involves the domination of both the rest of the world and of people of color domestically). Then there are the Hillary and mainstream GOP voters, who are trying to squeeze some benefit out of what Freeman rightly calls military Keynesianism (though I’d argue neoliberalism is about corporate welfare Keynesianism more generally). And then lefties — many but not all of whom support Sanders — who question both the corporate Keynesianism and, especially, the sphere of influence empire.

My real point, however, is that the Trump effect is secondary. It is absolutely true that American workers and middle class, generally, have been losing ground. And it absolutely true that whites may perceive themselves to be losing more ground as people of color equalize outcomes, however little that is really going on. It is, further, absolutely true that large swaths of flyover country whites are killing themselves, often through addiction, at increasing rates, which seems to reflect a deep malaise.

But I also think the effect of the Trump side of the equation — the thing that’s driving rabid adherence to an orange boob promising a big wall and domestic investment as well as promising to treat other countries with utter disdain — is secondary malaise, the loss of the self-belief that America actually is exceptional.

(White) America needs to stop believing its superior stems from the ability to lord over much of the rest of the world and start investing in actually living with the rest of the world.

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