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Notebook, 24 February 2015: The Greek Reform Proposals, Annotated. UPDATE


What follows is the list of proposals submitted to the Eurogroup, as reported by Reuters. Contrary to many reports, Jeroen Dijsselbloem said that they were delivered to him on time—just another instance of the miserable reporting on Greece.
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Notebook, 27 January 2015: SYRIZA’s Next Moves


For a long time, I haven’t focused on unfolding election results like I zeroed in on last Sunday’s parliamentary elections in Greece. SYRIZA’s significant not because it a leftist government, after all, socialists have ruled in Greece for a long time, but SYRIZA has posted the first anti-establishment party I can ever recall posting a win. If the definition of radical is anyone who demands structural change in the political economy, then SYRIZA qualifies. (Radical is frequently (mis)used as a synonym for militant, and most Americans haven’t grasped the difference, even though they have been electing right-wing radicals since 1980.)
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Notebook, 11 September 2014: “I’m sorry, I’m gonna interrupt you right now.”


Without indulging overmuch the impulse either to go all tribal and join hands in yet another warm and fuzzy celebration of Amerikan Patriotism or go the other way and exclaim that America Had It Coming! (both of which are valid points of view―and if you don’t like hearing that, feel free to leave right now), here’s my 9/11 remembrance.

At the time, my workday frequently stretched from late morning, through the swing shift right into the graveyard shift in the wee hours of the morning, so I was still at home getting ready to leave for work and as usual, watching CNBC’s Squawk Box, hosted by Mark Haines at the time. The CNBC studios which, if I recall correctly (I don’t bother with CNBC anymore), are located in Fort Lee, New Jersey, right across the Hudson River from Manhattan. CNBC used to broadcast video of the New York City skyline regularly, especially as they cut to, or returned from, commercial breaks, if I recall correctly, so I believe they were the first to break the news..They didn’t quite realize that it was an attack until the second plane hit the south tower, though Joe Kernan was skeptical from the start that an airplane would have flown into the building accidentally under what were ideal flying conditions Much as I hate to grant him credit on anything, he was right.

Mark Haines led the coverage, along with David Faber and Kernan, Faber had just reported that Lehman had upgraded Goldman Sachs (with a hefty measure of “meh”) though apparently he had been working the phones trying to find out and report what was happening. Kernan, was going on and on about some guy’s haircut (now there’s some news you can trade on).

When they were ready to go, Haines had been in the midst of an interview with Oakmark Select Fund’s Bill Nygren.

Beginning at 4:10, here’s how I found out:

Needless to say, I was very late to work that day, though it was certainly a day (like the Kennedy assassination) where I still recall exactly where I was when I heard the news. In that vein, when I finally did get to work, I remember Dan’s, my immediate supervisor, words when I entered: “it fell,” as I walked in the door. I knew exactly what he meant. Shortly afterwards, I ran out to the nearest Staples to see if I could get ahold of a radio in order to keep up with breaking developments. The last one they had, a Sony clock radio, is sitting on my desk as I type this, a personal historical artifact, and yes, I fully realize how lucky I am that this clock is the only physical consequence of my 9/11 experience. I was two degrees of separation away.

Of the 8,276 injuries and fatalities from terror attacks on US soil in the period from 1970 to 2011, 2,977 of these (just the fatalities) resulted from the attacks in New York City, Shanksville, Pennsylvania and Washington DC that day. In revenge,,however, America has directly and indirectly killed about one million people. The carnage continues to this day, 13 years later.

Notebook, 7 August 2014: Crossroads


As I write this, negotiators from Israel and Hamas are in Cairo wrestling with yet another set of issues resulting from the colonialist view that treating weaker peoples however you like is OK―as long as you can get away with it. However, today Hamas in Gaza is out in force marching in support of their negotiators and their demands, while Netanyahu lines up US support to avoid being hauled before the ICC on war crimes charges. In the meantime, the negative fallout from Israel’s latest war on Palestinians continues to spread. Predictably, Operation Protective Edge looks to possibly be an even bigger political disaster for Israel than Cast Lead, though Israel may not care.

In Israel and abroad, the less militant among zionists are being arrested. They’re being fired. They’re being beaten. Whatever agreement can be made in Cairo, if any, is bound to ripple through Israel’s body politic, and because I don’t have much faith in Israel’s left, I expect that in the short term, the rabid right wing in Israel to emerge more unified and even stronger. Of course, the consequences of this will be more settlements, more incidental and official violence against Palestinians ― generally making matters worse. I’m not making any predictions one way or the other here. This is my gut talking and I fully realize that miracles can happen; but I have to keep asking myself: has Israel have any options left or has their penchant for massive violence closed off any possible alternatives? It would appear that Israel’s support in the world may hinge on whether Israel can find one, and soon.

The other party at a crossroads at this moment is, of course, the unity government of Palestine who gains where Israel loses. I expect Hamas’ rule in Gaza is safe for the foreseeable future, and today’s demonstration seems to indicate that they remain committed to the resistance. What remains to be seen is the extent Operation Protective Edge hardens Palestinian resolve. In this regard, I feel it is significant that Abbas continues to weaken. Apart from Hamas’ growing skill in the public sphere; (aided by modern media, Hamas can, after all, exploit the huge difference between tossing unguided rockets over the border which almost always hit open areas harmlessly versus the deadly effectiveness of Israel’s deliberate targeting of fleeing Palestinian civilians2). Furthermore, the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank is to some extent hostage to events in Gaza. Failure to stand strong while Gaza fence shootings occur could either shatter the unity government or force it more toward the hard line. They’re also, therefore, hostage to Israel, who retains the capacity to provoke a response from Gaza, and shows every indication they are perfectly willing to continue to do so.

I don’t know if Palestinian leadership in the West Bank is ready for that.

Aside: For those keeping score, and speaking of fence shootings, Israel has already breached the current ceasefire agreement. Ma’an reports that yesterday, Israeli forces open[ed] fire at Gazans in Shujaiyya park. The West needs to begin paying attention.

Such provocations will have one of two possible outcomes: the unity government will fail if Abbas and Fatah refuse to deal forthrightly in protecting the lives and interests of the inmates of Gaza, or Hamas/Palestinian Authority will step up and take a harder line with Tel Aviv and the United States1.

My take: Abbas is no Arafat, who would have taken the long route through the fires of hell if that’s what it took to be to where the action was in Gaza. Abbas doesn’t have that kind of grit. Nor does he have Arafat’s international presence either. While Hamas was operating under bombardment, Abbas was busy touring the world’s capitals trying ineffectually to broker a ceasefire. Widely felt to be an appeaser, Abbas’ stewardship of the West Bank has been widely regarded to be an utter disaster for the Palestinians living under his rule. That being said, if history of such movements tells us anything, both armed and diplomatic wings must be simultaneously employed, but I have no confidence that Abbas is the figure to carry on the latter effort. That’s the crossroad the unity government now stands on, and it is beyond me to guess which way this frog will jump.

The short and medium term fates of both sides may hinge on what comes out of Cairo.

1The United States is certainly not at any kind of crossroads. We have no option which alleviates our association with Israel, and the American made arms responsible for the wanton destruction of lives in Gaza.

2Israel has a history of deliberate massacre of civilians who are in the act of surrender. These “white flag incidents” occurred in Safsaf, Eliaboun and Sahila according to an Israeli source. How many more such atrocities occurred is presently undetermined.

Update: The ceasefire is over, and Israel’s supporters reflexively spread the lie that it’s all Hamas’ fault:

Well, I already covered that. I knew it would need to be watched carefully, the Israeli hasbara machine is so predictable.

Notebook, 3 February 2014: Bleeding


Bleeding: Consistently losing chips through bad play, possibly resulting from tilt (Emotional upset, mental confusion, or frustration in which a player adopts a less than optimal strategy, usually resulting in poor play and poor performance).

When a player is consistently losing chips, they are “bleeding chips.”

Wikipedia Glossary of Poker Terms

And as one Tweep replied, “I can only say No s–t Sherlock

There’s a confluence of reasons why the US should address the Syrian Civil War:

  1. A variety of non-state militant actors (ie: terrorists – a meaningless word by now) have gathered, threatening the creation of another safe haven.
  2. We have never had good relations with Assad, and this is, seemingly, an opportunity to indulge in some more regime-change.
  3. The humanitarian catastrophe.

It would be nice if we could do any of these things, but experience teaches us that we can only do one.

Rogin’s article highlights Lindsay Graham’s and John McCain’s concerns: hitting Al Qaeda, and we could do that, but that would solve exactly nothing, as we witnessed in Iraq, and as we continually witness in Af/Pak, Yemen and Libya. Graham and McCain, “leaders” of the Senate’s knee-jerk neocon caucus, don’t really care whether airstrikes or even troops on the ground will work or not. They’d get to spread the (electorally satisfying) claim that we’re doing something and indulge their veneration of the military, But we know how this plays out. Drones and/or boots don’t, in fact, bring stability or even materially diminish the Al Qaeda threat. They can, however, raise the cost of militant operations in specific localities. In other words, they can move it around (while also proving that those non-state militants have a point). Which brings up the question, how many countries do we want to be conducting military operations in? And will military operations of any scale whatsoever actually accomplish anything? More than a decade of war in Afghanistan and years of troops on the ground haven’t. McCain, at least, knows this, which is why he suggested maintaining a US military presence in Iraq for 100 years. (Which wouldn’t work either. Witness the Balkans and Central Asia, where those peoples simply began re-enacting their own history where it left off when the great powers came to town.) So, any massive “search-and-destroy” efforts on the part of the US military are, quite simply, a waste of time, money and most importantly, lives.

I think most people have a pretty good, if vague, sense of this.

As for replacing Assad, we can game this out and come to, I think, some pretty durable conclusions as well. If, by any means whatsoever, Assad is separated from power: overrun by opposition forces, voluntarily steps down (whether he faces justice for the chemical weapon attacks or not is immaterial) or simply drowns in the bathtub or chocks to death on a tuna sandwich, who will replace Assad? Another Sisi? Another Karzai? Another al-Maliki? Another whoever-the-hell-is-nominally-in-power-in-Tripoli? That amounts to a back-to-square-one scenario and merely postpones a repeat performance. History repeated, once again.

Addressing the humanitarian catastrophe is just about the only thing outside powers can do. There are lots of ideas about how to go about this, but one thing that hasn’t been seriously attempted is the creation of a safe haven. To do so effectively would require an invasion and boots on the ground – a massive military commitment and would be very, very costly.

Early on, it was recognized that there weren’t any good options for the US in Syria, and this hasn’t changed. I might add that the military sucks – totally sucks – at being stability to any theater of conflict, and again, Af/Pak and Iraq are merely the latest examples of a truth which dates back to Woodrow Wilson’s occupation of Vera Cruz.

Whatever happens, we’re stuck here at home with those like McCain and Graham who are ready to seize any opportunity to aggrandize American power throughout the world no matter the cost. They (and plenty of others) will use the humanitarian crisis, the “crime” (debatable and African leaders are right. International law is selectively and politically applied) of using chemical weapons on civilians as well as the presence of militant non-state actors as a pretext for getting our fingers in the Syrian pie, but this is precisely the kind of cold-blooded calculation we expect of a Putin and is in no small amount why we’re in mess with those militant non-state actors in the first place.

There is neither any winning scenario, any clear-cut victory, nor a credible exit strategy to taking sides in the Syrian Civil War. We can, however, attenuate the humanitarian distress, and I suggest we employ the Pentagon’s massive logistics capabilities to doing that, and only doing that.

Let’s be adults. Let’s cut through the tilt and forgo another round of bleeding. Our stack isn’t as deep as the knee-jerk neocons like to pretend it is.

Notebook, 8 January 2014: Review of Goliath, by Max Blumenthal


Before Blake Hounshell left Foreign Policy Magazine for Politico, he once tweeted something to the effect that he was wondering then if the entire body of “academic” foreign policy literature was best avoided. (I, who spent many hours immersed in it – they’re a stuffy, verbose lot – told him he wasn’t missing much.) The treatment of policy by elites in the US, from Fareed Zakaria (and almost uniformly throughout all the US press) through the corps of lobbyists over at The Council of Foreign Relations (and the rest of American officialdom), suffers from a sterile abstraction. Much needed, Max Blumenthal’s Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel is a glorious thumb-in-the-eye to all that. He covers a lot of territory here, almost all of it from the ground in Palestine. What he finds there isn’t a pretty sight to behold. Insulated by the shallowness of “balanced” press treatments of the Middle East, ordinary Americans can live out their entire lives unaware of what the street wisdom in East Jerusalem, Nablus and Ramallah (or, for that matter, in Cairo, Benghazi, Tehran, Kabul or Baghdad) has to teach us. Blumenthal hit the pavements of Israel and the occupied West Bank to tell it.

Disclosure: I have committed two errors no reviewer should ever commit: I have passed a few tweets with @MaxBlumenthal (which is why I’m writing this. I hadn’t planned to) and I read one column (not really a book review, but something better – a discussion of the merits) about Goliath. As for the latter, I cannot remember by whom or where I read it, but the point of the post was, if Blumenthal wanted to convince more readers, he’d have taken a more objective tone. He wouldn’t have inserted his own point of view into the text. There’s some truth in that, but I get the feeling that whoever wrote that hadn’t read beyond the first handful of chapters, in which the author doesn’t try to hide his disgust for the right wing in Israel, and especially it’s leadership. After that, he lets the subjects of his book, both Israeli and Palestinian, speak for themselves. It doesn’t take long before it becomes clear that they are simply telling it like it is.

As for the short exchange of tweets passed between us (I have never met or spoken with Max Blumenthal otherwise), I mentioned that I had been a supporter of Israel right up to the moment I saw the photogrpahs coming out of Gaza in the aftermath of the indiscriminate bombing of Operation Cast Lead. He replied that this moment of epiphany was shared by many he’d spoken with.

Though I do keep up (I have a page in my RSS reader devoted just to news out of Palestine), my own journey away from Israel and toward Palestine has been more in the nature of historical scholarship, and if I can find one fault in Goliath is that it doesn’t stress enough that the rise of Jewish fascism (their word, not mine) was inevitable, and that the whole sorry, tragic spectacle we witness today was predicted almost a century ago. All one must do is read the debate which took place in the House of Lords on 21 June, 1922 on the motion to drop the Balfour Declaration from the Palestine Mandate. Blast the English with their penchant for understatement. “Resolved in the affirmative, and Motion agreed to accordingly.” – doesn’t even begin to tell it. Overwhelmingly, Lords voted 60-29 against Balfour.

The author’s journey is both winding and admirably comprehensive. You’d think Jews, for instance, of all people, would react viscerally (official opposition has abandoned the field entirely leaving a tiny, embattled minority of activists holding the bag) against the notion of their state would come to create their own Gestapo (Shin Bet), build concentration camp (Ketzlot, for African refugees), emphasize racial purity while demonizing miscegenation (rationalized as the “demographic” problem, but more significantly given religious and racial expression in groups like Lehava), using the police state, not just against enemies, but to crush dissent and ghettos (the walls are sprouting up all over Palestinian towns in the West Bank and, of course, there’s always Gaza). Even Kristallnacht was recreated by what amounts to an officially sanctioned anti-immigrant pogrom in Tel Aviv, in May of 2012.

Yes, you’d be mistaken. Reading Goliath, the similarities between Nazi Germany and today’s Israeli regime are impossible to avoid.

And it’s not hard to see why. A phrase written by John Brady Kiesling has resonated with me since the moment I first read it:

“. . . the logic of nationalism is implacable”

and if the Zionist experiment has many enemies without (full disclosure: I count myself among them), there is also the fact that a poisonous seed is enclosed within. Blumenthal closes Goliath with a look at one of growing numbers of Israelis so disenchanted with what their state has become and have chosen to leave. How the worm has turned. I’ve always held that irony will get you every time, and in this case the it’s crushing: after the US, Germany is the destination of choice for young Israelis looking to escape a fascist regime.

Indeed. Born out of a nineteenth century worldview in which race and smugly superior assumptions about the place in the world occupied by the West, Zionism is yet another illustration of how the imperative of the nation-state distorts and diminishes simple, shared humanity. One would think this lesson would have taken by now. As I read Goliath, one thought (and here I am guilty of the kind of abstraction that I accused the West’s foreign policy “elite” of) kept cropping up throughout: Apart from the specific group, it’s flag, and all the other trappings of a national mythos and its veneration, are the aims and methods of the “pure” Zionist state so very different than those of the “pure” Aryan one?

For its street level perspective of Zionism in practice, Goliath is a Must Read.

Notebook, 29 August 2013: Parliament on Syria


Watching the British Parliament debate British involvement in a US-led bombing campaign in Syria as a response to gas attacks, I’m hearing slippery slope and pie-in-the-sky arguments in favor, but the opposition is less articulate. Their arguments roughly break down thus:

  • The conflicting demands of international law, a violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention vs breaking international law by intervening in the internal affairs of a sovereign state, the latter needs to be given the greatest consideration.
  • No conclusive evidence of a gas attack has been, as yet, been presented.
  • There’s no real plan. “Sending a message” seems to be enough justification for conservatives, but what exactly does that accomplish?

It is also apparent that neocon baggage and what amounts to a criminal record as long as your arm in the tawdry abuse of humanitarian intervention by the West, even while both sides are skeptical of the credibility argument.

What’s not being mentioned is how the West sat back after episodes like when Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons on Kurds in northern Iraq.

We intend to remain seized of the matter.


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