Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Today's Links

Today's quote:   “Russia believes anti-constitutional acts and violence are unacceptable and is hoping for the restoration of order and stability in Turkey.” Vladimir Putin to Erdogan following coup attempt July 17

On the GOP convention:  "An air of demoralized paranoia dominates the convention. Under the slogan “Make America Great Again,” the speakers describe a country in irreversible breakdown, beset by enemies inside and out. In the speeches, filled with appeals to the military and the police, one senses, beneath all the braggadocio, a ruling class extremely nervous about its future"

"History is bringing mankind face to face with the volcanic eruption of American imperialism.”— Leon Trotsky, 1934

"There is very little that is original in the person of Trump, except, perhaps, that his limitless self-obsession and narcissism have allowed him to become a vessel into which the greed and criminality of the American ruling class can be poured." WSWS

1--If the news is so good, then why do Americans feel so bad? (Gallup survey)

Gallup grapples with this question:
The reasons for lower public confidence in the economy since mid-June compared with the beginning of the year are unclear

(It's a mystery)
Concerns about national security and its effect on the U.S. economy in the wake of international terrorism also do not appear to explain the dip. For instance, confidence remained level after the attack in Nice, France, last Thursday, averaging -18 for Monday through Thursday and -17 for Friday through Sunday.
And the notion that the economy is once again hunky-dory is, inexplicably, not helping those Americans feel better either:
Notably, several positive economic signs have not boosted confidence. National gas prices remain low; U.S. stock prices hit record highs last week; consumer spending is sturdy; and job creation, as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, picked up in June after a disappointing May.

2--In the new America---You're going to be poor forever (The Myth of Upward Mobility in America

Researchers find that those who start out poor are likely to remain so.

...intragenerational mobility has been declining since the early 1980s across a variety of rank-based measures,” the scholars write. “Mobility has declined for both men and women and among workers of all levels of education, with the largest declines among college-educated workers. In the presence of increasing inequality, falling mobility implies that as the rungs of the ladder have moved father apart, moving between them has become more difficult.” ....

..."One striking feature is the decline in upward mobility among middle-class workers, even those with a college degree," the scholars write. “Across the distribution of educational attainment, the likelihood of moving to the top deciles of the earnings distribution for workers who start their career in the middle of the earnings distribution has declined by approximately 20 percent since the early 1980s.”

"The probability of ending where you start has gone up, and the probability of moving up from where you start has gone down,” Carr told Atlantic reporter Alana Samuels.

Samuels explains, "For instance, the chance that someone starting in the bottom 10 percent would move above the 40th percentile decreased by 16 percent. The chance that someone starting in the middle of the earnings distribution would reach one of the top two earnings deciles decreased by 20 percent.”

The findings were followed by a report released earlier this month by the Economic Policy Institute, which found that, in 2015, CEOs in the largest U.S. companies an average of 276 times the annual pay of the average worker.
The report noted, “From 1978 to 2015, inflation-adjusted CEO compensation increased 940.9 percent, 73 percent faster than stock market growth and substantially greater than the painfully slow 10.3 percent growth in a typical worker’s annual compensation over the same period.”

3--Chart Of The Day: Financial Engineers At Work——IBM’s Revenues Have Been Dropping Since 2011

4--No, prices are not rising-- Core Inflation Rate Falls to 1.4 Percent if Shelter is Excluded

However even the CPI figure can be a bit deceiving. The shelter component (essentially rent and owners' equivalent rent) accounts for over 40 percent of the core index. This component is the factor responsible for the modest increase in the core CPI in recent months. Excluding the shelter component the core CPI actually fell modestly from 1.6 percent to 1.4 percent over the prior twelve months...

Higher interest rates will slow construction and in this way make the shortage of housing worse. For this reason inflation caused by rising house costs would not be a good rationale for raising interest rates.

5--Microsoft lifts Dow, S&P to records, before oil limits gains

For the rally to sustain we are going to need to see continued improvement in the earnings and economic activity," said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at First Standard Financial in New York.

6--Large investors make the full exit: Big rental investors like Blackstone are now selling properties to current renters.

Big Wall Street investors stopped buying real estate in large quantities back in late 2014.  In many cases big investors had front row seats at banks and were able to buy in bulk and for incredibly low prices not offered to the public.  This crowding out of course has caused two major things to unfold: inventory to dwindle and a push up in prices for regular families looking to buy.  For the first time in history many things happened in the housing market including nationally falling prices but also a large interest from Wall Street in single family homes.  Now with prices near previous peak levels many of these large investors are making the full exit by offering to sell the homes to current tenants, for of course a modest increase.  Those bailouts that were geared to helping the public actually created a system that has slammed the homeownership rate lower and has now jacked home prices up once again.  Large investors are now making their final play by cashing out.....

Prices and rents have surged well beyond income levels......There is still maximum leverage in the market.

7---What Really Happened in Syria

This should make Robin Yassin-Kassab and Leia Al-Shami’s Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War the book of the hour. Published by London’s Pluto Press, long associated with the International Socialist Tendency, it seemingly analyzes the Syrian disaster from  a critical-left perspective, in other words one that isn’t afraid to tell the left when it goes wrong but otherwise reflects a progressive and democratic point of view.

Considering that the leftwing website Counterpunch hailed it as nothing less than the second coming of George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia, this is a book that many readers have been waiting for.

But they’ll have to wait some more. Burning Country is a disaster – defensive, contradictory, all too eager to blame others rather than asking how the revolution itself may have gone awry. Considering how it downplays the problem of religious sectarianism, makes excuses for Al Qaeda, and pushes for U.S.-Saudi military intervention, it’s not just bad but pernicious – an example of how broad sectors of the Left have collapsed with regard to one of the most explosive issues of the day....

Without offering a shred of evidence, Yassin-Kassab and Al-Shami want us to believe in a monstrous conspiracy theory in which a Machiavellian government in Damascus kills loyal Alawites so as to panic others

(Defending al Qaida??)

Thus, Al Qaeda embraces secularism if Burning Country is to be believed, it defends Sunnis against the bloody dictator Assad, and if it slaughters a few minority members on occasion, it does so not out of religious hatred but because of a business dispute that has gotten out of hand. The authors’ sectarian bias, meanwhile, leads them to excoriate Shi‘ite Iran as the source of all evil.
“Iranian policy in both Iraq and Syria had vastly increased the Sunni sense of victimhood,” they write.  “Iran was one of the factors behind ISIS’s rise, and will continue to galvanize Sunni extremists after ISIS’s fall.”

Once again, everyone is to blame for Sunni chauvinism except the Sunnis themselves. Bemoaning the failure of the “international community,” i.e. the U.S., U.K., and France, to intervene in the wake of Assad’s alleged sarin gas attack in August 2013, they express the fond hope that Saudi Arabia will intervene instead:

“Saudi commentators have suggested that once a clear defeat has been registered on Iranian-backed forces in Yemen, the Saudi-led coalition will turn its attention more fully to Syria, perhaps even providing air cover for a Southern Front offensive against Assad’s Iranian-backed forces south of Damascus. Saudi clumsiness in Yemen, however, does not give cause for optimism.”
Optimism? With U.S. encouragement, the Arab Gulf petro-states have poured billions into an international jihad aimed at imposing a Sunni fundamentalist dictatorship much like the one in Saudi Arabia, if not worse. It’s a crime as great as the 2003 invasion of Iraq

8--The Republicans plumb the depths

Donald Trump emerged from a silhouetted stage on Monday night to introduce his wife, who was about to read her plagiarized tribute to her hero. Unfortunately, there is not to be found among the ranks of present-day journalists the equal of an H.L Mencken, who certainly would have drawn attention to the absurd irony of hysterical evangelical delegates choosing as their prophet a thrice-wed man who publicly extols the size of his private parts and has entertained the New York tabloids with descriptions of his most memorable sexual encounters.

Another great American satirist, Sinclair Lewis, the author of Elmer Gantry and It Can’t Happen Here, would probably have seen in the excitement of the delegates proof that the United States is a country where puritanical hysteria commingles with a fascination for the pornographic, and where pious moral virtue never stops the pursuit of the almighty dollar.

There is very little that is original in the person of Trump, except, perhaps, that his limitless self-obsession and narcissism have allowed him to become a vessel into which the greed and criminality of the American ruling class can be poured. In his personal history, he stands out only for his ability to combine the phenomenon of the crooked CEO with the celebrity culture of American television.
As the World Socialist Web Site has pointed out before, Trump’s particular fascistic personality was forged not in the beer halls of Munich and the trenches of World War I, but in the real estate market of New York City. With his casinos, his fictional universities and his endless stream of failed businesses, this personification of corporate fraud could hardly be a more fitting symbol for the state of American capitalism.....

The Republican Party Platform was passed quickly on Monday. Officially dedicated to the military and the police, it outlines a program for eliminating every legal, financial and government restraint on the accumulation of wealth by the capitalist class. It calls for repealing the 16th amendment, which established the federal income tax; lowering the corporate tax rate; eliminating government regulations; cutting Medicaid and transitioning Medicare into a program for subsidizing the purchase of private insurance; cutting Social Security; replacing remaining welfare programs with “the dynamic compassion of work requirements” and abolishing the Environmental Protection Agency. The platform also adopts Trump’s proposal to build a wall on the US-Mexico border.

It enshrines a form of clerical authoritarianism, with government based on religious principles. Aside from the ubiquitous references to God, the platform would ban abortion under all conditions, protect corporations and other entities that discriminate on the basis of religious prejudice, and overturn court rulings legalizing gay marriage.

The most significant element of the Republican Party platform, however, is what it says about foreign policy—asserting that the United States must subordinate the entire world to the interests of American corporations. “We cannot allow foreign governments to limit American access to their markets while stealing our designs, patents, brands, know-how, and technology,” it proclaims. “We cannot allow China to continue its currency manipulation, exclusion of US products from government purchases, and subsidization of Chinese companies to thwart American imports.”

10--Washington's back against the wall in Syria?

Clearly, the US policies on Syria are floundering. The Syrian forces have laid siege to Aleppo and the US-backed rebels are trapped inside the city, while Turkey may have begun disengaging from reaching aid to them. Washington has no option but to engage Moscow to work out some sort of face-saving compromise formula.

11--U.S. Syria policy is in disarray, Brookings

...Russian air support has enabled regime forces to encircle Aleppo, trapping 300,000 civilians. If Syrian refugees are no longer streaming into Europe, it is because they are now stranded along the Turkish and Jordanian borders, refused entry into countries that were once safe havens for Syrians fleeing violence at home. Today, more than 150,000 Syrians are struggling to survive in harsh conditions, including exposure to attacks from Russian aircraft....

Washington must condition any cooperation with Russia on Moscow’s commitment to facilitating a meaningful political transition that removes Assad from power and provides for the rebuilding of political institutions—including core institutions of the Syrian state—Without that, any gains achieved against ISIS and Nusra will be short-lived. As in Iraq, where a sectarian and exclusionary regime spurred the rise of ISIS and led the United States to support a transition that ousted Nouri al-Maliki from power, Syria will not achieve an end to violence, or any serious prospect for reconstruction and the return of normalcy as long as the Assad regime or its remnants continue to rule. Expectations to the contrary—including those expressed by Russian officials—are out of touch with what five years of brutal violence have done to the Syrian state and to any possibility that Assad can stabilize or govern Syria. Officials in the Pentagon and State Department generally recognize this reality. The White House is apparently unpersuaded....

Priority number one: The Assad regime

12--Hezbollah has drones

The successful mission by a Hezbollah drone entering Israeli air space in the Golan Heights and taking photographs is a significant development at various levels.

13-- Russian-Turkish rapprochement poses threat to US dominance

Israel, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have a great deal to lose if Turkey establishes ties with Syria, which is on the cards. Thus, stopping Erdogan on his tracks has become an urgent imperative for these countries. The spectre of the Syrian government regaining control over the country’s territory haunts Israel, which has been hoping that a weakened and fragmented Syria would work to its advantage to permanently annex the occupied territories in the Golan Heights. Again, Turkey’s abandonment of the ‘regime change’ agenda in Syria means a geopolitical victory for Iran. On the contrary, a triumphant and battle-hardened Hezbollah next door means that its vast superiority in conventional military strength will be rendered even more irrelevant in countering the resistance movement. Significantly, Israel is keeping stony silence.

Will the US and its regional allies simply throw in the towel or will bide their time to make a renewed bid to depose Erdogan? That is the big question. Erdogan’s popularity is soaring sky-high today within Turkey. He can be trusted to complete the ‘vetting’ process to purge the Gulenists ensconced in the state apparatus and the armed forces. The meeting of the High Military Council due in August to decide on the retirement, promotions and transfers of the military top brass gives Erdogan the free hand to remove the Gulenists.

14--The GOP Convention: "Off their meds and out of therapy"

For the first time, one of the two major capitalist parties in America has chosen as its presidential nominee an individual of openly authoritarian and semi-fascist views who has publicly called for actions by the US government that are brazenly unconstitutional and illegal.
Among Trump’s more notorious proposals are the mass round-up and expulsion of 11 million undocumented immigrants; a ban on Muslims entering the United States; an official policy of torture, including waterboarding “and much worse,” against prisoners captured by the US military; and the extermination of the families of those designated as “terrorists” by the US government....

What is being put on display at the convention in Cleveland is the transformation of one of the two main capitalist parties in the United States into an ultra-right political formation that regards its traditional bourgeois opponents in the Democratic Party not as electoral rivals, but as illegitimate and subversive enemies.
This is the outcome of a protracted process, going back to the right-wing campaign to overthrow an elected president that led to the 1998 impeachment of Bill Clinton, followed by the stolen election of 2000, and now the nomination of a fascistic candidate who declares that his principal electoral opponent should be disqualified from running or jailed.

15--The threat of a nuclear-armed Turkey

"The failed coup attempt by elements of the Turkish Armed Forces on July 15 will enable President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to establish himself as an authoritarian ruler in Turkey. His priorities in the next few months will be to solidify the loyalty of the Turkish military establishment and complete the constitutional reform necessary to replace Turkey’s parliamentary democracy with an executive presidency, his longstanding goal. A post-coup Erdogan is much less likely to submit to American pressure without major returns. Erdogan immediately demanded the extradition of political rival Fethullah Gulen from the U.S., accusing Gulen of plotting the coup and condemning the U.S. for harboring him. Erdogan will likely deprioritize the fight against ISIS, undermining the counter-ISIS mission in Syria, as he focuses on consolidating power. He may even revoke past concessions to the U.S., including permission to use Turkey’s Incirlik airbase for counter-ISIS operations."  ISW

"With a few hours and the right tools and training, you could open one of NATO’s nuclear-weapons storage vaults, remove a weapon, and bypass the PAL inside it. Within seconds, you could place an explosive device on top of a storage vault, destroy the weapon, and release a lethal radioactive cloud. NATO’s hydrogen bombs are still guarded by the troops of their host countries. "  New Yorker

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