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.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Short Takes

Ukraine cease-fire not exactly going as planned.

President Obama hosts a summit on terrorism.

Clean-up began at the site of the crude oil train derailment in West Virginia.

Appeals court rules that birth control coverage can be required under Obamacare.

Cuba cuts the cost of internet access.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Know Your Enemy

If we are to prevail over ISIS, then we should understand them.  This article in The Atlantic by Graeme Wood goes a long way towards that education.

Our ignorance of the Islamic State is in some ways understandable: It is a hermit kingdom; few have gone there and returned. Baghdadi has spoken on camera only once. But his address, and the Islamic State’s countless other propaganda videos and encyclicals, are online, and the caliphate’s supporters have toiled mightily to make their project knowable. We can gather that their state rejects peace as a matter of principle; that it hungers for genocide; that its religious views make it constitutionally incapable of certain types of change, even if that change might ensure its survival; and that it considers itself a harbinger of—and headline player in—the imminent end of the world.

The Islamic State, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), follows a distinctive variety of Islam whose beliefs about the path to the Day of Judgment matter to its strategy, and can help the West know its enemy and predict its behavior. Its rise to power is less like the triumph of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt (a group whose leaders the Islamic State considers apostates) than like the realization of a dystopian alternate reality in which David Koresh or Jim Jones survived to wield absolute power over not just a few hundred people, but some 8 million.

[…]

The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic. Yes, it has attracted psychopaths and adventure seekers, drawn largely from the disaffected populations of the Middle East and Europe. But the religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam.

Virtually every major decision and law promulgated by the Islamic State adheres to what it calls, in its press and pronouncements, and on its billboards, license plates, stationery, and coins, “the Prophetic methodology,” which means following the prophecy and example of Muhammad, in punctilious detail. Muslims can reject the Islamic State; nearly all do. But pretending that it isn’t actually a religious, millenarian group, with theology that must be understood to be combatted, has already led the United States to underestimate it and back foolish schemes to counter it. We’ll need to get acquainted with the Islamic State’s intellectual genealogy if we are to react in a way that will not strengthen it, but instead help it self-immolate in its own excessive zeal.

[…]

That the Islamic State holds the imminent fulfillment of prophecy as a matter of dogma at least tells us the mettle of our opponent. It is ready to cheer its own near-obliteration, and to remain confident, even when surrounded, that it will receive divine succor if it stays true to the Prophetic model. Ideological tools may convince some potential converts that the group’s message is false, and military tools can limit its horrors. But for an organization as impervious to persuasion as the Islamic State, few measures short of these will matter, and the war may be a long one, even if it doesn’t last until the end of time.

As Mr. Wood says, the closest comparison for Westerners is to the hardcore apocalyptic cults with a charismatic leader who takes a faith, perverts it to his own psychosis, gathers a group of followers, and proceeds to immolation.  It’s not limited to Christians; there are such examples in nearly every faith, and in some cases religion or the bastardization of it is merely a cover for a cult of personality centered around someone with a smooth tongue and refuge for the lost and hopeless.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Short Takes

Egypt strikes back at ISIS in Libya.

Danish officials say they have arrested two people in connection with an attack at a freedom-of-speech event over the weekend.

A train carrying crude oil derailed in West Virginia; several hundred people evacuated.

The government is intervening in the labor dispute that has slowed shipping at West Coast ports.

Now it’s ice — The Southeast and Northeast brace for more bad weather.

6.8 earthquake hits northern Japan.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Short Takes

President Obama asked Congress for an AUMF against ISIS.

The U.S. and Britain abruptly closed their embassies in Yemen.

GOP Senator says it’s time to give up the fight on immigration.

Diplomats are trying to work out a peace agreement for Ukraine.

North Carolina man held in killing of three Muslim students.

CBS News correspondent Bob Simon, 73, killed in a car accident in New York City.