Sunday, July 20, 2014

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Short Takes

Israel: The bodies of three teenagers who were abducted several weeks ago were found.

Airstrikes in Iraq are not a good idea according to a retired Army general who served there.

With immigration reform officially pronounced dead, President Obama will use executive action to bolster border security.

White House says President Obama will expand safeguards for transgender workers.

8.4 million: The number of GM cars now under recall.

Tropical Update: Invest 91L still moving up the East Coast.

The Tigers beat Oakland 5-4.

Rabbit, rabbit, rabbit.

Monday, June 30, 2014

How To Stop An Investigation

Blackwater, the military contractor hired by the U.S. government to help them in Iraq, has had a problematic relationship with the people that hired them.  The New York Times has found that not only did they lack oversight and on occasion killed people, they also threatened to kill anyone who ratted them out about their misconduct.

Just weeks before Blackwater guards fatally shot 17 civilians at Baghdad’s Nisour Square in 2007, the State Department began investigating the security contractor’s operations in Iraq. But the inquiry was abandoned after Blackwater’s top manager there issued a threat: “that he could kill” the government’s chief investigator and “no one could or would do anything about it as we were in Iraq,” according to department reports.

American Embassy officials in Baghdad sided with Blackwater rather than the State Department investigators as a dispute over the probe escalated in August 2007, the previously undisclosed documents show. The officials told the investigators that they had disrupted the embassy’s relationship with the security contractor and ordered them to leave the country, according to the reports.

After returning to Washington, the chief investigator wrote a scathing report to State Department officials documenting misconduct by Blackwater employees and warning that lax oversight of the company, which had a contract worth more than $1 billion to protect American diplomats, had created “an environment full of liability and negligence.”

“The management structures in place to manage and monitor our contracts in Iraq have become subservient to the contractors themselves,” the investigator, Jean C. Richter, wrote in an Aug. 31, 2007, memo to State Department officials. “Blackwater contractors saw themselves as above the law,” he said, adding that the “hands off” management resulted in a situation in which “the contractors, instead of Department officials, are in command and in control.”

His memo and other newly disclosed State Department documents make clear that the department was alerted to serious problems involving Blackwater and its government overseers before the Nisour Square shooting, which outraged Iraqis and deepened resentment over the United States’ presence in the country.

With friends like that…

Saturday, June 28, 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

Thanks For The Memories, Dick

Former Vice President Dick Cheney showed up on Sunday chat shows yesterday and allowed as how he meant no disrespect when he called President Obama a traitor.  And when he was called out for being wrong on Iraq over and over again, he dismissed it as dredging up the past.

What a fucking monster.

But in a way I’m glad to see that he’s reared his shiny head.  It gives us all a chance to look at him in the fresh light of day even if it makes our skin crawl.  As Tina Dupuy notes, it reminds us of what an unmitigated disaster the Bush/Cheney administration was and who it was that lied us into a war that killed over 4,000 American soldiers and untold numbers of Iraqi civilians, destabilized the entire region, and gave us the set-up for the current clusterfuck that is going on now.

So now that we’re remembering what a shitheel he was then and seeing him again live (allegedly) on TV, we can tell him with a fresh voice to get the hell out.

Cheney in Iraq 06-23-14HT to Balloon Juice.  Cartoon by Signe Wilkinson.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Friday, June 20, 2014

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

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.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Foreign Entanglements

What’s happening now in Iraq is one more outbreak of what has been happening in that part of the world for a very long time.  Only American arrogance and exceptionalism would have you believe that we could solve it or replace it with some version of democracy.

It’s not that the Shia and the Sunnis are incapable of appreciating freedom and democracy; they just would rather have something else, thank you very much.  Not every nation or culture or belief system fits into our mold.

The tragedy isn’t that we Americans can’t go in now and stop the fighting.  The tragedy is that we never should have gone there in the first place in 2003.

Josh Marshall:

[...] this is the upshot of the decision made in March 2003. There is no other realistic or honest way to understand it. How President Obama handled the departure is really largely irrelevant. To paraphrase the Emperor Tiberius (whose line was later picked in an apt but ugly rendering by Thomas Jefferson), when you’re holding a wolf by the ears, just how you choose to let go is largely beside the point. Late in the last decade we had a simple choice. Stay in the country basically forever and keep the lid more or less on the powder keg or leave and leave it untended – with all that implies. The country didn’t want us to stay and so we left. Without the US to hold together the pieces we broke apart, a drive toward authoritarianism or fracture was close to inevitable.

As is the case with all civil wars and struggles, the war will end when the people fighting it want it to, not because someone else says so.  That only spreads the blood.

PS: STFU, John McCain.

Short Takes

Iraq: President Obama ruled out sending troops but took nothing off the table.

Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl returns to U.S. soil.

House delays vote on school meal standards.

Ya, mon — Jamaica to relax some rules on pot smoking.

Tesla to open-source its patent portfolio to encourage electric car development.

R.I.P. Ruby Dee, 91, actor and civil rights activist.

The Tigers beat the White Sox 4-0.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Sunday Reading

Impossible Choices — David Rohde, a former Taliban captive explains why we’re demonizing the wrong people.

I’m biased about Bergdahl. Five years ago, I was kidnapped by the same Afghan Taliban faction along with two Afghan colleagues while I was on leave from The New York Times, researching a book in Afghanistan. An offer for an interview from a Taliban commander who had previously met twice with European journalists proved to be a ruse. We were abducted at the meeting point and then transported to the tribal areas of Pakistan.

My decision to go to the interview thrust my family and editors into a world where there are no good choices. Kidnapping cases vary, but they all center on the same tortuous questions. Was the kidnap victim innocent or somehow at fault—and does it matter? Is it right to pay a ransom that could encourage kidnappings or fund future terrorist attacks? When is it morally acceptable to let a captive die?

One brave Afghan and one brave Pakistani allowed me to avoid answering those questions. While our guards slept, the Afghan journalist and I managed to escape and reach a nearby Pakistani military compound. After we were nearly shot by sentries, a Pakistani Army captain allowed us to enter the base and saved our lives. (The other Afghan kidnapped with me returned home safely six weeks later.)

Ten days after our escape, Bergdahl was captured by the same Taliban group. Over the last four years, I have talked regularly with Bergdahl’s family and those of other kidnapped Americans. One of them is the family of Warren Weinstein, an aid worker abducted in Pakistan nearly three years ago. His family fears he will die in captivity. In July, he will be 73.

The Bergdahls, the Weinsteins, and every other family I have spoken with express the same sense of desperation, isolation, and crushing responsibility. They incessantly ask themselves if they are doing enough. The sad truth hanging over every conversation is that they do not have the power to save them.

Five years later, the situation has gotten worse.

In every case I know of, the U.S. government has refused to pay ransom and, until Bergdahl, refused to release prisoners. Over the last three years, however, European governments have paid $100 million in ransom to various al-Qaeda splinter groups across the Middle East and North Africa, according to British officials. Israel released 1,000 prisoners in exchange for one Israel soldier.

[...]

During the Iraq war, security consultants began recommending that the abduction of journalists be kept secret. A media blackout, it was hoped, would reduce captors’ ransom demands. It would also, in theory, discourage would-be abductors from seeing kidnappings as a way to gain worldwide publicity for their cause.

When we were abducted in Afghanistan, my family and editors followed that advice. My captors also initially demanded that the case remain secret as well. As had occurred in a half-dozen previous instances, media outlets agreed not to report on our kidnapping.

We will never know the impact of the blackout on my captors, but throughout the seven months I was held captive, they remained convinced that I was a “big fish.” By the time we escaped, their price for my release included $7 million in cash and seven prisoners from Guantánamo—a drop from the $25 million and 15 Guantánamo prisoners they started with.

In the years since I’ve returned home, it’s become clear that one unintended consequence of this blackout strategy is that U.S. officials are under little pressure to address the problem. Anguished families say they regularly visit Washington only to be “patted on the head” by U.S. officials.

[...]

The outcry over the Bergdahl case could create the worst of both worlds. Jihadists will expect prisoner exchanges or large ransoms. U.S. officials will be ever more hesitant to act in kidnapping cases.

Both sides in the furor over the Bergdahl case offer simplistic answers to the growing problem of abductions. Those who say the release of the five prisoners sets no precedent are downplaying the scope of this propaganda coup for the Taliban. Other militants around the globe will likely emulate them.

[...]

The focus of our anger should be the kidnappers. They are the problem, not hostages, their families, or a government that meets a demand. We must unite in fighting the perpetrators of a craven crime—not each other.

A Simple Wedding — John Nichols at The Nation on why each marriage equality ruling is historic.

Shari Roll was clutching the marriage certificate. Renee Currie was clutching Shari Roll. And when their designated officiant, Mike Quieto, pronounced them married, they smiled so perfectly, so naturally, that it seemed as if this was just another wedding on the courthouse steps.

And, of course, it was.

The only distinction was that this was the first legally-recognized marriage of two women in Wisconsin, the first same-sex marriage in Madison, the one of the initial celebrations of the marriage equality ruling issued by a federal judge Friday afternoon. By the end of the night in Madison, 61 same-sex couples had been issued marriage licenses by Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell, while 68 had been issued by Milwaukee County Joe Czarnezki.

Together for years and very much in love, Roll and Currie could easily have driven to the neighboring state of Iowa, which has since 2009 recognized marriage equality. Thousands of Wisconsin couples, including Congressman Mark Pocan, D-Madison, and his husband, Phil Frank, married outside the state after a ban on same-sex marriages was enacted in 2006. But Roll and Currie decided to wait for a future when the state could no longer restrict the most basic rights of loving couples.

“We wanted to get married where we live,” explained Shari Roll.

I understand that. A lot of us who choose to marry in the place where we live, embraced by the people we know, grounded in the values and the unique interactions of the very different communities and states that make up America.

Madison’s uniqueness was evident Friday night, as dozens of couples got their licenses and married on the steps of the downtown building that serves both as the Madison City Hall and the Dane County Courthouse. Judges in robes waited on the steps, meeting couples and performing the marriages as cheers went up from the ever-expanding crowd of well-wishers. Children showed up, brimming with bouquets. I asked who the wedding flowers were for and they replied, “For everyone who is getting married today.” Then they starting handing flowers out to couples who had rushed to the courthouse without much preparation but suddenly felt quite special and very loved.

Then the cops showed up with the wedding cakes. Several Madison Police officers who had been assigned to keep an eye on the proceedings raced off to a nearby grocery store and bought three large cakes. Everyone was eating cake and cheering as the Klezmer band arrived and a fiddler played “Let Me Call You Sweetheart” for a pair of women who waited 30 years to marry.

[...]

Today, polling shows Wisconsinites overwhelmingly support marriage equality – a May Marquette Law School poll found 55 percent of voters favor allowing same-sex marriage, while just 37 percent are opposed. Unfortunately, Governor Scott Walker and his Republican-controlled legislature have refused to allow the voters to revisit the issue. Walker was still backing efforts by Attorney General JB Van Hollen to block marriages, even as the clerks started issuing licenses.

So it was appropriate that a senior jurist with her own deep roots in Wisconsin, Federal Judge Barbara Crabb, would determine that, “Quite simply, this case is about liberty and equality, the two cornerstones of the rights protected by the United States Constitution.” In an 88-page decision that was hailed as one of the most though yet produced by a federal jurist ruling on the issue, Crabb explained that states cannot trump federal guarantees of equality and equal protection with their own discriminatory amendments. And, while Walker and Van Hollen will continue to cling to a past that has been rejected by the courts and the great mass of Wisconsinites and Americans, the future is fast arriving.

And that future allows people to marry the people they love in the places they love.

In their rush to get to the courthouse Friday afternoon, Shari Roll and Renee Currie forgot to bring any cash for the license fee. Roll handed her credit card to friend who ran off to a nearby bank machine and returned with the cash. It was no problem. Shari and Renee were getting married where they live, and everyone was helping out.

The Day the Giants Walked — Lt. Col. Robert Bateman on one soldier’s landing on D-Day.

In the smoke and dust kicked up by the massive pre-landing naval bombardment, the markers leading the way into the beach were missed by the men piloting the landing craft. Sure, they were heading ashore, but unbeknownst to them they were heading for the wrong section of the shore. The place they were supposed to land was more than a mile, some 2,000 yards, to the north. With confusion created by smoke, dust, noise, and fear, the landing craft were well off-target. But time and tide wait for no man, and so when they grounded on the gently sloping sands and the ramps dropped, the men of the 8th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division, and the diminutive general accompanying them, stepped ashore.

Even today Utah Beach is unremarkable. This stretch of the coast is at the base of the Cotentin Peninsula, and it is low, with just a single light sand dune abutting the beach. Go there off-season and you can walk these sands, alone, lost in the memories of 100,000 men. You can wander the beaches imagining the approach and the arrival all those decades ago, with not a single person in sight. If you have a vivid imagination, and know your history, it can border on the spiritual. There are no beachside cafes, nor bustling hotels or tourist shops selling kitschy D-Day schlock to interrupt you, as at some of the other landing sites. There is only the beach, where the first of the allies waded ashore, and the world started to change.

Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. was the deputy division commander of the units that landed in the first wave. He had to pull strings to be allowed to land with the dogfaces, but when your cousin is the President of the United States, some of your “strings” can be quite substantial. Roosevelt only played that card, significantly, in order to get in to combat, not to avoid it. Eventually General Bradley caved, and so Roosevelt was there, in the first confusing moments. Confusing, of course, because the terrain did not match what the infantry was expecting. They had maps, but the ground did not match the maps they were issued. What to do?

Two battalions of American infantry were now ashore, and the battalion commanders were wondering, “what do we do now?” And this is the moment when that wizened little man who was not supposed to be there, using a walking stick, made his mark upon the history of the world.

[...]

Roosevelt was not long for this earth, and he probably knew it. I suspect that he did not care. What he cared about were the men, the mission, and the countless memories recorded by the men who served with or under him substantiate that. He was a worthy successor to his father, and might have left a mark known to more, had there been more time. He was not to have that time.

Less than 60 days later, having just been appointed as the commander of his own Division, he died of a heart attack. But on this day, this morning, 70 years ago, he made history. He gave an order, and the men followed, and the world began to change.

“We start…from here.”

Doonesbury — Pay attention.