Monday, September 8, 2014

Monday, July 21, 2014

Monday, July 14, 2014

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Sunday Reading

Road Trip — Julie Pace of the AP in TPM on the Obama tour to bolster support.

Welcome to Barack Obama’s split-screen presidency.

On one side: a confident Obama making campaign-style stops around the country and ridiculing his political opponents to the delight of cheering supporters. On the other side: an increasingly unpopular president hobbled by gridlock on Capitol Hill and a steady stream of vexing foreign policy crises.

Obama has long sought refuge outside of Washington when his frustrations with the nation’s capital reach a boiling point. But his ability to rally public support in a way that results in progress for his legislative agenda has perhaps never been weaker than it is as he nears the midpoint of his second term.

To the White House, the take-away is that Washington — and the Republican Party in particular — is out of touch with the American people and failing to address their priorities. But to GOP leaders, Obama’s activities in a midterm election year reinforce their view of a president more focused on soaring speeches and partisan politics than on working toward compromise solutions to the nation’s problems.

Each side has at least some evidence to support their case.

Many Americans are indeed deeply frustrated with Washington’s inability to get anything done. Polls show majorities want to see action on some of Obama’s proposals, including increasing the minimum wage and overhauling the immigration system. Yet Obama’s own approval rating has fallen to the lowest levels of his presidency. And with his party at risk of losing control of the Senate, the president has ramped up his fundraising for the midterms and taken on a sharply partisan tone when voicing his frustration with Republicans.

During a speech Thursday in Austin, Texas — a Democratic enclave in a GOP-leaning state — Obama berated Republicans for, by his account, failing to act on “every serious idea” he’s put forth this year.

“The best you can say for them this year is that so far they have not shut down the government,” he said. “That’s the best you can say. But of course, it’s only July so who knows what they may cook up in the next few months.”

Egged on by a raucous and supportive crowd, Obama slipped deeper into campaign mode, leaning into the podium, responding to commentary from the audience and slipping into the familiar campaign language of his presidential bids. “Cynicism is a choice. Hope is a better choice,” he declared.

Why We’re Never Rid of Torture — Rebecca Gordon on why Dick Cheney’s America still has the capacity to do it.

Once upon a time, if a character on TV or in a movie tortured someone, it was a sure sign that he was a bad guy. Now, the torturers are the all-American heroes. From 24 to Zero Dark Thirty, it’s been the good guys who wielded the pliers and the waterboards. We’re not only living in a post-9/11 world, we’re stuck with Jack Bauer in the 25th hour.

In 2002, Cofer Black, the former Director of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, told a Senate committee, “All I want to say is that there was ‘before’ 9/11 and ‘after’ 9/11. After 9/11 the gloves come off.” He wanted them to understand that Americans now live in a changed world, where, from the point of view of the national security state, anything goes. It was, as he and various top officials in the Bush administration saw it, a dangerous place in which terrorists might be lurking in any airport security line and who knew where else.

Dark-skinned foreigners promoting disturbing religions were driven to destroy us because, as President George W. Bush said more than once, “they hate our freedoms.” It was “them or us.” In such a frightening new world, we were assured, our survival depended in part on brave men and women willing to break precedent and torture some of our enemies for information that would save civilization itself. As part of a new American creed, we learned that torture was the price of security.

These were the ruling fantasies of the era, onscreen and off.  But didn’t that sorry phase of our national life end when Bush and his vice president Dick Cheney departed? Wasn’t it over once Barack Obama entered the Oval Office and issued an executive order closing the CIA black sites that the Bush administration had set up across the planet, forbidding what had euphemistically come to be called “enhanced interrogation techniques?” As it happens, no. Though it’s seldom commented upon, the infrastructure for, the capacity for, and the personnel to staff a system of institutionalized state torture remain in place, ready to bloom like a desert plant in a rain shower the next time fear shakes the United States.

There are several important reasons why the resurgence of torture remains a possibility in post-Bush America:

* Torture did not necessarily end when Obama took office.

* We have never had a full accounting of all the torture programs in the “war on terror.”

* Not one of the senior government officials responsible for activities that amounted to war crimes has been held accountable, nor were any of the actual torturers ever brought to court.

Final Notes — Everything you need to know about the World Cup final game between Argentina and Germany.  From Joe DeLessio at New York magazine.

The World Cup comes to an end this afternoon in Rio, when Germany and Argentina meet in the tournament’s final. It’s Germany’s eighth appearance in the final (they’ve won three times), and it’s the fifth time Argentina will play for the title (they’ve won twice). The game is sure to draw monster ratings, with both die-hard fans and casual observers tuning in. And so if you’re the type who only watches soccer once every four years, here’s a primer to get to ready for the big match.

How did these teams get here?
Germany went 2-0-1 in the group stage (the draw came against Ghana), then beat Algeria and France in the knockout round to advance to the semifinals. As you might have heard, they embarrassed Brazil (the favorite to win it all) in that game, defeating them 7–1, prompting a lot of sad Brazilian front pages.

[…]

Argentina, meanwhile, has won all of its games, finishing the group stage 3-0-0 before beating Switzerland and Belgium to earn a berth in the semis. They needed a penalty shootout to get past the Netherlands in the game, after neither team scored in either 90 minutes of regulation or 30 minutes of extra time.

What do I need to know about Germany?
• They’re an efficient, disciplined team that beats opponents by working as a unit. Their midfield is a major strength and a big reason they walloped Brazil in the semifinals, and Manuel Neuer is one of the best goalies in the world.

• They have the second-leading goal scorer in the entire tournament in Thomas Muller, whose five goals are behind only Colombia’s James Rodriguez’s. Those who jumped on the U.S. soccer bandwagon may recall Muller as the guy who scored for Germany in their 1–0 defeat of the Americans…

• Germany’s roster also includes Miroslav Klose, the all-time leading goal scorer in World Cup history. His goal against Brazil in the semis was the 16th of his World Cup career.

• Jurgen Klinsmann, the coach of the U.S. team, is rooting pretty hard for Germany. The German-born Klinsmann both played for and coached the country in past World Cups, and with the Americans out, he’s not hiding his rooting interests.

What do I need to know about Argentina?
• Their best player is Lionel Messi, who may also be the best player in the world. He aggressively attacks defenders, and thanks to his sick ball control skills, creates opportunities to shoot and pass. He tallied 291 goals in 201 games for his club and national teams in between the 2010 and 2014 World Cups. (The only player who comes close to that figure is Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo.) And he has four goals so far in the World Cup, tied for third most.

• Argentina, a team not necessarily known for its defense, has been incredibly tough to score on in the knockout round so far: They haven’t allowed a goal in their last three games (not counting the penalty shootout, of course). Thanks to two games that have gone into extra time, that’s 330 minutes of play in elimination games, against some of the best teams on the planet.

• Javier Mascherano — who stumbled to the field after knocking heads with an opponent against the Netherlands, and later revealed that he also “tore [his] anus” while trying to prevent a Arjen Robben goal in the same game — plans on playing in the final.

[…]

All right, just tell me who’s supposed to win.
Through the semifinal round, FiveThirtyEight put Germany’s chances of winning the World Cup at 63 percent, and Argentina’s at 37 percent. Germany are the favorites according to bookmakers, too, even though no European country has ever won a World Cup played in the Americas.

Doonesbury — Rumor has it…

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Short Takes

Dam Close — ISIS is closing in on Haditha Dam, the second largest in Iraq.

Iran is said to be secretly supplying Iraq with weapons.

The Supreme Court ruled against Aereo TV service, saying it violated copyright.

Also, the Court unanimously ruled that cell phone searches by police must come with a warrant.

The N.F.L. has lifted the cap on payments to concussion victims.

Diane Sawyer is leaving the anchor desk at ABC.

The Tigers beat the Rangers 8-6.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Short Takes

First of 300 military advisers on the ground in Iraq.

Thad Cochran wins run-off in Mississippi.

No-Fly List process deemed unconstitutional.

Two dead and 10 injured in shooting in Miami.

Verdict in British phone hacking scandal.

Bite me — Italy loses to Uruguay in a strange match.

R.I.P. Eli Wallach, 98, actor on stage and screen for over 60 years.

The Tigers beat the Rangers 8-2.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Question of the Day

Goooooooooooooooooal!

Are you watching the World Cup?

Miami, being the cultural melting pot of people from places where soccer is a national obsession and team spirit is strong, is awash with people wearing team colors and cars with national flags flying from antennas in support of their team.  Everywhere you go — restaurants, barber shops, any place with cable TV — the games are on, so it’s unavoidable.  But I’m not going out of my way to watch it.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Sunday Reading

Seven Talking Points on Iraq — David Corn at Mother Jones takes on the Republicans clamoring for more war.

1. George W. Bush and Dick Cheney invaded Iraq with no clear and comprehensive plan for what to do after the invasion and the end of Saddam Hussein’s regime. Weeks before the war, the administration stated there was no reason to fear that sectarian conflict would ensue after Saddam was booted.

2. Following the invasion, the Bush-Cheney administration decided to prohibit the Sunni-dominated Baath Party from participating in a post-Saddam government and decommissioned the existing Baathist-led military. This caused deep resentment among Sunnis, especially former military commanders and soldiers (who would now be available for an armed opposition). The move had the effect of banishing Iraqis with governing and security experience from the post-Saddam order. That would be good for chaos and conflict.

3. The Bush-Cheney deciders, having decimated the Sunni ruling establishment, backed the creation of a government led by hard-line Shiite religious parties, including the party of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The Maliki regime has been corrupt, authoritarian, and incompetent—and allied closely with the Shiite government in Iran. (Iran was a key sponsor of Maliki when he was in exile during the Saddam years.) The thuggish Maliki government, supported by the Bush administration and then the Obama administration, has treated the Sunni areas of Iran as enemy territory and refused to share power with Sunnis—stoking the deep-seated tensions between Sunnis and Shiites. (As the murderous Sunni ultra-extremists of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, have gained power in Mosul and other Sunni-dominated cities and towns, non-extremist Sunnis have sided with—or tolerated—the jihadists because of their shared hatred of the Maliki regime and the Iraqi military, which Sunnis in Mosul considered an occupying force).

4. President Barack Obama did not leave a residual force of American troops in Iraq after he withdrew US troops because Maliki would not sign a Status of Forces Agreement protecting US soldiers. Though Bush also did not negotiate a long-term SOFA, prominent Republicans, including Senator John McCain and Mitt Romney, have slammed Obama for failing to obtain such an agreement. But Fareed Zakaria reports that a senior Iraqi politician told him, “Maliki cannot allow American troops to stay on. Iran has made very clear to Maliki that it’s No. 1 demand is that there be no American troops remaining in Iraq. And Maliki owes them.”

5. The United States has provided much training and equipment to the Iraqi military—$25 billion in military aid—before and after the US withdrawal. Yet under Maliki the Iraqi army has not been professionalized and has committed repeated abuses against civilians, according to Human Rights Watch, including unlawful raids and arrests, torture, and indiscriminate shelling. When a relatively small band of jihadists attacked Mosul and Tikrit, four major divisions folded. Training and equipment does not help if soldiers strip off their uniforms and flee because they are not committed to the mission and the government.

6. More US assistance to Maliki and his military may not make the difference. (See No. 5.) Moreover, Iran has sent special forces to Iraq to assist Maliki—bolstering Iraq’s dependence on Iran. If the United States were to funnel additional military equipment (and more advanced equipment) to Maliki’s army, it could well end up with the ISIS jihadists (given the Iraq military’s habit to cut and run) or—get this—with the Revolutionary Guard  of Iran. A good deal for Tehran. And if US air strikes are ordered in Iraq to assist Maliki, American fighter jets or drones would be deployed in a tactical alliance with Iran.

7. The current crisis is not the result of inadequate US support of Maliki and the Iraqi military. It is the outcome of Maliki’s failures, which have provided the evildoers of ISIS—a band that does threaten civilians and stability in the region—an opportunity, and these failures were enabled by the Bush administration and unaddressed by the Obama crew. Unless the basic dynamic is altered, any military action—whether taken by the United States, regional allies, and/or NATO—will be as effective as pounding sand.

No Surprise — Frank Rich on why Eric Cantor’s defeat is no shock.

Cantor’s fall, and the fact that no one in the mainstream press saw it coming, is yet another indication that the biggest political story since Obama’s 2008 victory remains baffling to many. How many times can one say this? The radical right — whether it uses the tea party rubric or not — has seized control of one of America’s two major political parties. The repeated reports of the tea party’s demise are always premature. Back in the fall of 2012, in the weeks before Obama’s reelection, I wrote a piece titled “The Tea Party Will Win in the End” making this case and arguing that signs seemingly suggesting otherwise (the tea party dropping to a 25 percent approval rating in a September 2012 Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll; the demise of Michele Bachmann) were utterly misleading. After Todd Akin & Co. were routed that November, the tea party was dead again. When a freshround of tea-party obituaries started appearing this spring — hey, Mitch McConnell won his primary, the Establishment is back! — they, too, should have been ignored. In terms of the big picture, McConnell’s victory — achieved only after he hired Rand Paul’s campaign manager and moved further to the right — was as politically meaningless as Mitt Romney’s ultimately winning the 2012 GOP nomination. The two thirds to three quarters of 2012 GOP voters who routinely supported the candidates to Mitt’s right in primary season were the true indicator of where the party is.

Brat is an Ayn Rand conservative. Speaking with Chuck Todd of NBC News this morning, he wouldn’t even endorse a federal minimum wage. He is unambiguously opposed to immigration reform. He speaks in a populist tone. “Dollars don’t vote,” Brat said after his victory — a reference to the fact that Cantor outspent him by 26-to-1 but also a slam of the Wall Street and K Street financial and corporate elites who fattened Cantor’s campaign piggy bank. Cantor, meanwhile, was everything Brat is not: He is a favorite of the financial industry. He tried to play both sides of his party’s immigration divide by simultaneously claiming to be in favor of some kind of reform and yet doing nothing to advance a bill in the House. He may be an exemplar of right-wing villainy to liberals, but to his own party’s faithful, he was a squish.

If you listen to Mark Levin, Glenn Beck, Laura Ingraham, or other voices of the grass-roots right, the base’s loathing of Cantor and possibly his primary defeat would not have come as a shock. If your sole sampling of Republican opinion is the relatively establishmentarian Fox News, you might have missed it. You certainly would have missed it if you think today’s GOP is represented by the kind of Republicans who swarm around Morning Joe, where Chris Christie and Jeb Bush are touted daily as plausible GOP saviors who might somehow get the nomination. The Times, meanwhile, ran Brat’s name only once in the past year, and was so dumbfounded by his victory that it ran a piece of analysis last night under the headline: “Why Did Cantor Lose? Not Easy to Explain.” It is quite easy to explain if you’ve been paying attention to the history of the American right since Barry Goldwater’s insurgents first took down the GOP Establishment a half-century ago. Or if you had simply turned on talk radio in the past five years.

Why Americans Call It Soccer — Uri Friedman in The Atlantic on the name of the game.

New Zealand’s largest newspaper is deeply conflicted. With the World Cup underway in Brazil, should The New Zealand Herald refer to the “global round-ball game” as “soccer” or “football”? The question has been put to readers, and the readers have spoken. It’s “football”—by a wide margin.

We in the U.S., of course, would disagree. And now we have a clearer understanding of why. In May, Stefan Szymanski, a sports economist at the University of Michigan, published a paper debunking the notion that “soccer” is a semantically bizarre American invention. In fact, it’s a British import. And the Brits used it often—until, that is, it became too much of an Americanism for British English to bear.

The story begins, like many good stories do, in a pub. As early as the Middle Ages, Szymanski explains, the rough outlines of soccer—a game, a ball, feet—appear to have been present in England. But it wasn’t until the sport became popular among aristocratic boys at schools like Eton and Rugby in the nineteenth century that these young men tried to standardize play. On a Monday evening in October 1863, the leaders of a dozen clubs met at the Freemasons’ Tavern in London to establish “a definite code of rules for the regulation of the game.” They did just that, forming the Football Association. The most divisive issue was whether to permit “hacking,” or kicking an opponent in the leg (the answer, ultimately, was ‘no’).

But that wasn’t where the controversy ended. In 1871, another set of clubs met in London to codify a version of the game that involved more use of the hands—a variant most closely associated with the Rugby School.

“From this point onwards the two versions of football were distinguished by reference to their longer titles, Rugby Football and Association Football (named after the Football Association),” Szymanski writes. “The rugby football game was shortened to ‘rugger,'” while “the association football game was, plausibly, shortened to ‘soccer.'”

Both sports fragmented yet again as they spread around the world. The colloquialism “soccer” caught on in the United States in the first decade of the twentieth century, in part to distinguish the game from American football, a hybrid of Association Football and Rugby Football. (Countries that tend to use the word “soccer” nowadays—Australia, for example—usually have another sport called “football.”)

[…]

If the word “soccer” originated in England, why did it fall into disuse there and become dominant in the States? To answer that question, Szymanski counted the frequency with which the words “football” and soccer” appeared in American and British news outlets as far back as 1900.

What he found is fascinating: “Soccer” was a recognized term in Britain in the first half of the twentieth century, but it wasn’t widely used until after World War II, when it was in vogue (and interchangeable with “football” and other phrases like “soccer football”) for a couple decades, perhaps because of the influence of American troops stationed in Britain during the war and the allure of American culture in its aftermath. In the 1980s, however, Brits began rejecting the term, as soccer became a more popular sport in the United States.

Doonesbury — Watching the kids.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Let The Games Begin… Someplace Else

Nobody wants to host the Winter Olympics in 2022.

The next Olympics to be awarded, a little more than a year from now, will be the 2022 Winter Games. Rather than going to the strongest bid, the games may end up going to the last city standing—a long list of potential hosts have given up on their Olympic dreams because the whole thing is one huge, useless waste of money.

Yesterday, Krakow, Poland, officially withdrew its bid for the games, a day after a citywide referendum where 70 percent of voters came out against hosting the Olympics. “Krakow is closing its efforts to be the host of the 2022 Winter Games due to the low support for the idea among the residents,” said mayor Jacek Majchrowski.

In January, another of the six original finalists pulled out, when Stockholm, Sweden‘s ruling political party declined to fund the games. They cited the pointlessness of paying hundreds of millions for facilities that would be used for two weeks and then rarely again, a story common to almost all Olympic hosts. “Arranging a Winter Olympics would mean a big investment in new sports facilities, for example for the bobsleigh and luge,” the Moderate party said in a statement. “There isn’t any need for that type of that kind of facility after an Olympics.”

In November, voters in Munich, Germany, rejected a proposed Olympic bid. “The vote is not a signal against the sport,” said one lawmaker, “but against the non-transparency and the greed for profit of the IOC.”

Last March, a joint bid from Davos/St. Moritz, Switzerland, fell apart after being rejected by a public referendum.

About the only places left still showing any interest are Kazakhstan and China.

One’s an oil-rich state ruled by a president-for-life, and the other’s, well, China. That’s no coincidence. With the Sochi games raising the bar to an absurd $51 billion, hosting the Olympics no longer looks like a winning proposition. The failed and aborted 2022 candidacies all have one thing in common: When actual citizens are allowed to have a say, they say they don’t want the Olympics.

The problem is that the Olympics are a huge money pit no matter where they go, not to mention a constant annoyance for people who watch anything on the many channels of NBC, who have just landed the rights to broadcast them into the 2030’s.

Here’s an idea: NBC should just buy a country that can host both winter and summer games and set up permanent venues.  That way they wouldn’t have to move around every two years.  I’ll bet that North Korea could be picked up cheap.

Monday, May 26, 2014