Sunday, September 13, 2015

Sunday Reading

Mission Accomplished — Tom Englehardt in The Nation on what Osama bin Laden got for his attacks.

Fourteen years of wars, interventions, assassinations, torture, kidnappings, black sites, the growth of the American national security state to monumental proportions, and the spread of Islamic extremism across much of the Greater Middle East and Africa. Fourteen years of astronomical expense, bombing campaigns galore, and a military-first foreign policy of repeated defeats, disappointments, and disasters. Fourteen years of a culture of fear in America, of endless alarms and warnings, as well as dire predictions of terrorist attacks. Fourteen years of the burial of American democracy (or rather its recreation as a billionaire’s playground and a source of spectacle and entertainment but not governance). Fourteen years of the spread of secrecy, the classification of every document in sight, the fierce prosecution of whistleblowers, and a faith-based urge to keep Americans “secure” by leaving them in the dark about what their government is doing. Fourteen years of the demobilization of the citizenry. Fourteen years of the rise of the warrior corporation, the transformation of war and intelligence gathering into profit-making activities, and the flocking of countless private contractors to the Pentagon, the NSA, the CIA, and too many other parts of the national security state to keep track of. Fourteen years of our wars coming home in the form of PTSD, the militarization of the police, and the spread of war-zone technology like drones and stingrays to the “homeland.” Fourteen years of that un-American word “homeland.” Fourteen years of the expansion of surveillance of every kind and of the development of a global surveillance system whose reach—from foreign leaders to tribal groups in the backlands of the planet—would have stunned those running the totalitarian states of the twentieth century. Fourteen years of the financial starvation of America’s infrastructure and still not a single mile of high-speed rail built anywhere in the country. Fourteen years in which to launch Afghan War 2.0, Iraq Wars 2.0 and 3.0, and Syria War 1.0. Fourteen years, that is, of the improbable made probable.

Fourteen years later, thanks a heap, Osama bin Laden. With a small number of supporters, $400,000-$500,000, and 19 suicidal hijackers, most of them Saudis, you pulled off a geopolitical magic trick of the first order. Think of it as wizardry from the theater of darkness. In the process, you did “change everything” or at least enough of everything to matter. Or rather, you goaded us into doing what you had neither the resources nor the ability to do. So let’s give credit where it’s due. Psychologically speaking, the 9/11 attacks represented precision targeting of a kind American leaders would only dream of in the years to follow. I have no idea how, but you clearly understood us so much better than we understood you or, for that matter, ourselves. You knew just which buttons of ours to push so that we would essentially carry out the rest of your plan for you. While you sat back and waited in Abbottabad, we followed the blueprints for your dreams and desires as if you had planned it and, in the process, made the world a significantly different (and significantly grimmer) place.

Fourteen years later, we don’t even grasp what we did.

Don’t Do It, Joe — Charlie Pierce on why Joe Biden shouldn’t run.

Watching Vice President Joe Biden’s appearance on Stephen Colbert’s new joint on Thursday night was like watching a man having his blood drawn with a turkey baster, one drop at a time. This is a guy who already had more tragedy than a merciful god would have allowed and that was before his son, Beau, died earlier this year. Of course, the man broke down. The wonder is that he ever gets out of bed in the morning. What he should do is continue as best he can to be the finest vice-president of my lifetime. What he should not do in his current state of emotional turmoil is run for president.

Leave aside the inescapable fact of political gravity that, as soon as he announces, his numbers begin to slide. Leave aside that his record as a senator is not exactly a progressive’s dream, and the only way to campaign effectively against Hillary Rodham Clinton is to come at her from the left, as Bernie Sanders has shown, and as Jim Webb has demonstrated from the other direction through his functional invisibility. Leave aside the fact that he’s tried it twice already and been crushed both times, once by Michael Dukakis, which ought to give anyone pause. Leave aside the fact that the whole boomlet thing seems to be the product of staffers, in Washington and in Delaware, who still see him as their last main chance. Those people are vampires.

But leave all that aside. Joe Biden shouldn’t run for president because he shouldn’t do it to himself. He has earned a unique place in the country’s heart, which is a far warmer place for him as a human being than shivering in some cornfield outside Ottumwa in the cold winter winds. A presidential campaign is a soulless mechanism designed to grind the human spirit into easily digestible nuggets. Moments of profound personal pain and loss are as unavoidable as are concussions in the NFL. It was almost unbearable to watch him speak of his son’s death even to someone as profoundly compassionate as Colbert. I would hate to see him coin that grief into political currency, or fashion it into a portion of a stump speech that would become banal the second time it was delivered. I think, at some level, he would come to hate himself for having to do that.  It’s not that I wouldn’t vote for Joe Biden, though I probably wouldn’t. It’s that I don’t want to see him hurt any more.

Revival — Ben Brantley of The New York Times on bringing back familiar shows in new productions.

So you think you’ve seen it all before — and recently, too.

I was of your mind once. Time was when looking at the schedule of a new theater season in New York would bring on a blinding déjà vu headache that threatened to send me to bed. “Not that show again,” I would think. “Didn’t I just see it a couple of years ago? Is there truly nothing new under the neon of the Rialto?”

If I were still trapped in that unenlightened state, you’d find me grousing myself hoarse about the roster of productions awaiting me on and off Broadway during the next year. Here come two more editions of Arthur Miller classics, “A View From the Bridge” (the last one was only five years ago!) and “The Crucible” (seen 13 years ago); and another couple of starry versions of Eugene O’Neill’s “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” (12 years ago) and Tennessee Williams’s “A Streetcar Named Desire” (three and six years ago).

And what’s this? “Fiddler on the Roof” redux. (The last revival of this beloved shtetl musical closed in 2006). And “Noises Off” and “The Gin Game” and heck, even, “The Color Purple,” a musical that completed its initial two-and-a-half year Broadway run in 2008. This new century is still relatively young. Shouldn’t there be a moratorium on bringing back shows that have already had 21st-century outings until, say, 2020?

But having read a lot recently about how negativity is bad for your health, I am determined to put a happier face on this season of wall-to-wall recycling. My new code of behavior — and I hope you’ll subscribe to it, too — is all about how to stop worrying and love the revivals.

First of all, if you’re a theater geek like me, you’ve no doubt spent hours playing the imaginary casting game with like-minded friends. Sometimes this is an exercise in silliness. (“What if Kim and Kanye did ‘Private Lives’?” or, “How about Donald Trump as Sweeney Todd?”) On other occasions, the speculation is whimsical but not entirely beyond belief. (“Think of Tina Fey and Jimmy Fallon as Beatrice and Benedick in ‘Much Ado About Nothing,’ ” or maybe, “Can’t you see Taylor Swift headlining ‘Sweet Charity’?”)

But such musings are rooted in the awareness that as familiar as some of them may be, good plays are endlessly mutable entities, which take on entirely new shapes according to who is appearing in, directing and designing them. And when I think about it honestly, I have to say I wouldn’t have missed any of the many, many Hamlets and Hedda Gablers and Vanyas and Prince Hals and Momma Roses and Sally Bowleses I’ve seen over the years.

That’s because if the play or musical is good enough, any production of it — even a misfire — is going to be illuminating in some way. Seeing the gap between miscast performers and their parts may be painful. But you can also read a lot about the playwright’s intentions, and your perception of the play, within that gap.

True enough, but it’s also important to give new plays — and playwrights — the chance to get their work done so they too can enjoy being revived five years later.

Doonesbury — Trendsetting.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Short Takes

Afghans say Taliban leader Mullah Omar died in 2013.

Remains of a plane washing ashore on Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean could be from the missing Malaysia jet.

Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-PA) indicted on corruption charges.

Cincinnati police officer indicted for murder in the shooting of an unarmed man.

Refugees are camped out in France trying to get to England by the chunnel.

Finally!  Justin Verlander gets his first win as the Tigers beat the Rays 2-1.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Short Takes

Russia: Putin says he’s adding to his nuclear missile stockpile.

The Senate voted to make torture illegal permanently.

T.A.A. vote postponed until next month.

Six killed when a balcony collapsed in Berkeley.

The F.B.I. says the St. Louis Cardinals hacked the Astros.

Tropical Update: TS Bill makes landfall in Texas.

The Tigers lost to the Reds 5-2.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Short Takes

U.S. airstrikes in Libya go after leader of Algerian attack.

Marriage equality comes to Mexico.

Comet lander wakes up after hibernation.

United Airlines passengers get an unscheduled stop in Canada for 20 hours.

Tropical Update: Invest 91L could head towards the Texas Gulf Coast.

The Tigers beat Cleveland 8-1.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Sunday Reading

Not In Service — Gillian B. White in The Atlantic on how our public transportation system advances inequality.

Transportation is about more than just moving people from point A to point B. It’s also a system that can either limit or expand the opportunities available to people based on where they live. In many cities, the areas with the shoddiest access to public transit are the most impoverished—and the lack of investment leaves many Americans without easy access to jobs, goods, and services.

To be certain, the aging and inadequate transportation infrastructure is an issue for Americans up and down the economic ladder. Throughout the country highways are crumbling, bridges are in need of repair, and railways remain inadequate. Improvement to public transportation—buses, trains, and safer routes for bicycles—is something that just about everyone who lives in a major metropolitan area has on their wish list. But there’s a difference between preference and necessity: “Public transportation is desired by many but is even more important for lower-income people who can’t afford cars,” says Rosabeth Moss Kanter, a professor at Harvard University and author of a new book Move: Putting America’s Infrastructure Back in the Lead.

“Without really good public transportation, it’s very difficult to deal with inequality,” Kanter said. Access to just about everything associated with upward mobility and economic progress—jobs, quality food, and goods (at reasonable prices), healthcare, and schooling— relies on the ability to get around in an efficient way, and for an affordable price. A recent study from Harvard found that geographic mobility was indeed linked to economic mobility, and a 2014 study from NYU found a link between poor public-transit access and higher rates of unemployment and decreased income in New York City.

Access to good transit is not merely a question of a system’s geographic reach but also the cost to ride—and the latter is becoming an issue more and more. In the past five years many metro areas including New York, Portland, and St. Louis have seen fare hikes that place additional strain on low-income households. Recent additions to public transportation options, like bike share, should—in theory—make getting around easier and cheaper. But as it’s widely been noted, these programs tend to place their kiosks, at least at first, in more affluent neighborhoods. They also require credit cards for rental, which leaves out poorer populations who tend to not have access to such financial instruments. A recent survey of bike share users in Washington D.C., for example, found that ridership wasn’t particularly reflective of the city’s population: The city has a population that is about 50 percent black but the study found that bike-share ridership was made of up of mostly young, white males, and more than 50 percent of those using the region’s bike share system had incomes of $100,000 or more.

That leaves most low-income households to rely on older transportation methods—and therein lies the problem…

Did George W. Bush Create ISIS? — Dexter Filkins in The New Yorker digs into the quagmire.

The exchange started like this: at the end of Jeb Bush’s town-hall meeting in Reno, Nevada, on Wednesday, a college student named Ivy Ziedrich stood up and said that she had heard Bush blame the growth of ISIS on President Obama, in particular on his decision to withdraw American troops from Iraq in 2011. The origins of ISIS, Ziedrich said, lay in the decision by Bush’s brother, in 2003, to disband the Iraqi Army following the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s government.

“It was when thirty thousand individuals who were part of the Iraqi military were forced out—they had no employment, they had no income, and they were left with access to all of the same arms and weapons.… Your brother created ISIS,’’ she said.

“All right,” Bush said. “Is that a question?”

“You don’t need to be pedantic to me, sir,” she said.

“Pedantic? Wow,” Bush said.

Ziedrich finally came forth with her query: “Why are you saying that ISIS was created by us not having a presence in the Middle East when it’s pointless wars, where we send young American men to die for the idea of American exceptionalism? Why are you spouting nationalist rhetoric to get us involved in more wars?”

Jeb replied by repeating his earlier criticism of President Obama: that Iraq had been stable until American troops had departed. “When we left Iraq, security had been arranged,” Bush said. The removal of American troops had created a security vacuum that ISIS exploited. “The result was the opposite occurred. Immediately, that void was filled.”

“Your brother created ISIS” is the kind of sound bite that grabs our attention, because it’s obviously false yet oddly rings true. Bush didn’t like it: he offered a retort and then left the stage. Meanwhile, Ziedrich had started a conversation that rippled across Twitter, Facebook, and any number of American dinner tables. Who is actually right?

Here is what happened: In 2003, the U.S. military, on orders of President Bush, invaded Iraq, and nineteen days later threw out Saddam’s government. A few days after that, President Bush or someone in his Administration decreed the dissolution of the Iraqi Army. This decision didn’t throw “thirty thousand individuals” out of a job, as Ziedrich said—the number was closer to ten times that. Overnight, at least two hundred and fifty thousand Iraqi men—armed, angry, and with military training—were suddenly humiliated and out of work.

This was probably the single most catastrophic decision of the American venture in Iraq. In a stroke, the Administration helped enable the creation of the Iraqi insurgency. Bush Administration officials involved in the decision—like Paul Bremer and Walter Slocombe—argued that they were effectively ratifying the reality that the Iraqi Army had already disintegrated.

This was manifestly not true. I talked to American military commanders who told me that leaders of entire Iraqi divisions (a division has roughly ten thousand troops) had come to them for instructions and expressed a willingness to coöperate. In fact, many American commanders argued vehemently at the time that the Iraqi military should be kept intact—that disbanding it would turn too many angry young men against the United States. But the Bush White House went ahead.

Many of those suddenly unemployed Iraqi soldiers took up arms against the United States. We’ll never know for sure how many Iraqis would have stayed in the Iraqi Army—and stayed peaceful—had it remained intact. But the evidence is overwhelming that former Iraqi soldiers formed the foundation of the insurgency.

On this point, although she understated the numbers, Ziedrich was exactly right. But how did the dissolution of the Iraqi Army lead to the creation of ISIS?

During the course of the war, Al Qaeda in Iraq grew to be the most powerful wing of the insurgency, as well as the most violent and the most psychotic. They drove truck bombs into mosques and weddings and beheaded their prisoners. But, by the time the last American soldiers had departed, in 2011, the Islamic State of Iraq, as it was then calling itself, was in a state of near-total defeat. The combination of the Iraqi-led “awakening,” along with persistent American pressure, had decimated the group and pushed them into a handful of enclaves.

Indeed, by 2011 the situation in Iraq—as former Governor Bush said—was relatively stable. “Relatively” is the key word here. Iraq was still a violent place, but nowhere near as violent as it had been. The Iraqi government was being run by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a fervent Al Qaeda foe and ostensible American ally.

But, as the last Americans left Iraq, there came the great uprising in Syria that pitted the country’s vast Sunni majority against the ruthless regime of Bashar al-Assad. Syria quickly dissolved into anarchy. Desperate and seeing an opportunity, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq, dispatched a handful of soldiers to Syria, where, in a matter of months, they had gathered an army of followers and had begun attacking the Assad regime. Suddenly, Baghdadi’s group—which had been staggering toward the grave only months before—was regaining strength. In 2013, the I.S.I. became the Islamic State of Iraq in Syria. ISIS was born…

The First Lawful Same-Sex Marriage in America — Erick Eckholm in The New York Times finds the couple that did it in 1971.

MINNEAPOLIS — Long before the fight over same-sex marriage began in earnest, long before gay couples began lining up for marriage licenses, Jack Baker and Michael McConnell decided to wed.

The year was 1967. Homosexuality was still classified as a disorder, sodomy was illegal in nearly every state, and most gay men and lesbians lived in fearful secrecy.

But from the age of 14, eyeing young men in his father’s barbershop, Mr. McConnell dreamed of living “happily ever after” with a partner.

So when Mr. Baker proposed moving in together, Mr. McConnell challenged him. “If we’re going to do this,” he replied, “you have to find a way for us to get married.”

Mr. Baker remembers his initial reaction: “I had never heard of such a thing.”

He enrolled in law school to try to make it happen.

In 1970, in Minneapolis, Mr. Baker and Mr. McConnell became the first same-sex couple known to apply for a marriage license. Turned down by Hennepin County, they fought to the United States Supreme Court, where they lost their case in a one-sentence dismissal that has reverberated in federal courts and played an indirect role in pushing same-sex marriage to the high court this year.

The couple, though, did not give up. With some sleight of hand involving a legal change to a gender-neutral name, they obtained a marriage license in another county, and in 1971, in white bell-bottom pantsuits and macramé headbands, they exchanged vows before a Methodist pastor and a dozen guests in a friend’s apartment. Their three-tiered wedding cake was topped by two plastic grooms, which a friend supplied by splitting two bride-and-groom figurines.

Ever since, they have maintained that theirs was the country’s first lawful same-sex wedding. The state and federal governments have yet to grant recognition, but the pastor, Roger W. Lynn, 76, calls theirs “one of my more successful marriages.”

“They are still happily married, and they love each other,” Mr. Lynn said.

The couple, now in their early 70s, spoke this month in a rare interview in the house they share here, nearly half a century after they joined their lives and earned a place in the history of gay rights, helping to make Minnesota an early center of gay activism.

Mr. Baker said he was proud that the Supreme Court this year heard the very same constitutional arguments of equal protection and due process that he had identified as a law student in 1970.

In 2013, when the Minnesota Legislature authorized same-sex marriage and a state senator announced, “Today, love wins,” Mr. McConnell watched, enthralled, from the gallery. But the couple did not join the rush for an undisputed license.

“No,” Mr. Baker said, pounding an oak table in their living room. “To reapply now becomes an admission that what we did was not legal, and I will never admit that.”

Doonesbury — Sign me up.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Short Takes

The Amtrak train that derailed in Philadelphia was traveling at twice the speed limit.

Fast track trade authority could be back on track.

Traces of banned chemical weapons found in Syria.

House votes to end N.S.A. bulk phone data gathering.

Vatican to recognize the state of Palestine.

The Tigers lost to the Twins 6-2.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Short Takes

Tories win close to a majority in the British election.

Drone kills al-Qaeda leader who claimed credit for Charlie Hebdo attack.

The U.S. is arming and paying moderate Syrian rebels.

Senate passes Iran nuclear deal review bill.

Another for-profit college hits the hard times.

The Tigers finally win one off the Chicago White Sox 4-1.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Short Takes

Nepal asks foreign rescuers to leave as hope fades for finding more earthquake survivors.

Second gunman identified in attack in Texas.

NYPD officer shot over the weekend died from his injuries.

Supreme Court refuses to hear challenge to New Jersey ban on “gay repair” therapy.

Americans like their drones.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Short Takes

Baltimore police turned over the results of their investigation into the death of Freddie Gray to the state’s attorney.

Bernie Sanders made it official.

Wow — A teenager was rescued from the earthquake ruins in Nepal.

The American Psychological Association collaborated with the Bush administration to bolster justification of torture.

What a surprise: Research has turned up more than 20 errors and distortions in the Clinton-bashing book.

The Tigers lost 8-1 in K.C.

Rabbit, rabbit, rabbit.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Short Takes

Aftershocks hit Nepal after Saturday’s earthquake; death count at over 3,200.

Israel says it launched airstrike along Syrian border.

Two dead, five missing after storm hits Alabama regatta.

Hawaii passes bill to raise smoking age to 21.

R.I.P. William Price Fox, author of Southern novels.

The Tigers wrapped up a series against Cleveland, winning 8-4.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Short Takes

President Obama apologizes for drone strike in Pakistan that killed two hostages.

France: Police say they’ve foiled five terror attacks since Charlie Hebdo.

Finally: Loretta Lynch confirmed as Attorney General.

The Deal’s Off: Comcast walks away from Time Warner merger.

The Tigers lost to the Yankees again 2-1.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Short Takes

Iraq security forces launched another attack against ISIS.

Four former Blackwater guards were sentenced for their part in murdering people in Iraq.

A Tulsa, Oklahoma reserve deputy sheriff was charged with manslaughter in the shooting of black man over the weekend.

The Tennessee Supreme Court is halting capital punishment in the state for the rest of the year.

Good move: Indiana is hiring a P.R. firm to help restore its image.

All good things… The Tigers finally lose a game, 5-4, to the Pirates.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

ISIS Money Trail

While the U.S. and Iran try to work out a deal on nuclear weapons, their common enemy ISIS is building up its war chest.

Islamic State (ISIS) leader Bin Hebdo Muhammad announced today they have acquired $15.6 billion in a Series C funding round through Haliburton VC and Academi, formerly Blackwater Corp.

“We are ecstatic about this new round of funding,” said Muhammad. “As we begin to blossom into a bigger enterprise, our partnerships with these fine companies will add tremendous value and knowledge with waging war not only physically but politically.”

ISIS had been seeking the large amount of money to help acquire more users. “Our user acquisition cost is very high. We gotta move them from Europe to the middle east, undetected, and with modest comfort,” said Muhammad. “Not only do we need to acquire new users but we need to satisfy our current base. These millennials want all sorts of things.”

Social media has been crucial to the growth of ISIS and will continue to grow it’s social media arm with some of the funds.

Academi CEO Erik Prince told the London Financial Times, “It just made sense for us. The middle east is the war that keeps on giving. They grow, we can grow. Our Ten year projection is outstanding for our investors.”

The $15.6 billion raise values ISIS at $80 billion, roughly twice of car sharing service Uber.

So how long before they come up with an IPO?

Monday, March 2, 2015

Friday, February 27, 2015

Short Takes

The House is trying to come up with a plan to fund DHS without messing with immigration and pissing off the right wing.

The guy known as Jihad John, the English-speaking executioner of ISIS, has been identified as a Briton.

You’re welcome — Liberia’s president thanked the U.S. for helping them with the Ebola crisis.

The F.C.C. votes in favor of net neutrality.

The Klown Kar is in town.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Short Takes

Secretary of Defense stands up for transgender people in the service.

Malls in U.S. on alert after terror threat.

More winter weather hits the South.

South African miners rescued after fire.

New killer virus found in Kansas.

And the Oscars went to…  (And my brother was right about Birdman.)

Friday, February 20, 2015

Short Takes

Germany says nein to Greece’s proposal to resolve its debt crisis.

President Obama calls for expansion of human rights to fight extremism.

Wal-Mart to pay $10 an hour minimum wage.

Superbug — Nearly 180 people may have been exposed to a deadly virus at a hospital in Los Angeles.

A first for Texas: a same-sex couple were granted a one-time-only marriage license.

Brrrr — Cold wave strikes the Midwest and East Coast.