Iran would shut down roughly two-thirds of the 19,000 centrifuges producing uranium that could be used to fuel a bomb and agree not to enrich uranium over 3.67 percent (a much lower level than is required for a bomb) for at least 15 years. The core of the reactor at Arak, which officials feared could produce plutonium, another key ingredient for making a weapon, would be dismantled and replaced, with the spent fuel shipped out of Iran.
Mr. Obama, speaking at the White House, insisted he was not relying on trust to ensure Iran’s compliance but on “the most robust and intrusive inspections and transparency regime ever negotiated for any nuclear program.”
There is good reason for skepticism about Iran’s intentions. Although it pledged not to acquire nuclear weapons when it ratified the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in 1970, it pursued a secret uranium enrichment program for two decades. By November 2013, when serious negotiations with the major powers began, Iran was enriching uranium at a level close to bomb-grade.
However, Iran has honored an interim agreement with the major powers, in place since January 2014, by curbing enrichment and other major activities.
By opening a dialogue between Iran and America, the negotiations have begun to ease more than 30 years of enmity. Over the long run, an agreement could make the Middle East safer and offer a path for Iran, the leading Shiite country, to rejoin the international community.
It’s a beautiful autumn day here in New Orleans. Many of us are voting early to ensure David Vitter’s political career ends this month. There are some interesting dynamics this election cycle. There’s only so much craziness allowed in the Republican Party by the moneyed interested before they start closing down the monkey house that’s become much of the local structure and grass roots. The base and the establishment couldn’t be more at odds. There is real concern that the Trump flame isn’t burning out. Last cycle, they were able to bring the insipid Mitt Romney through the process only to lose big time to the President. They also managed to hoist Dubya Bush on us at a cost of blood and treasure. Nixon really burned the house down. The Southern Strategy has really come back to haunt them.
There are some interesting articles up today analyzing various topics. The first is from WAPO and deals with establishment panic over Donald Trump.
Less than three months before the kickoff Iowa caucuses, there is growing anxiety bordering on panic among Republican elites about the dominance and durability of Donald Trump and Ben Carson and widespread bewilderment over how to defeat them.
Party leaders and donors fear that nominating either man would have negative ramifications for the GOP ticket up and down the ballot, virtually ensuring a Hillary Rodham Clinton presidency and increasing the odds that the Senate falls into Democratic hands.
The party establishment is paralyzed. Big money is still on the sidelines. No consensus alternative to the outsiders has emerged from the pack of governors and senators running, and there is disagreement about how to prosecute the case against them. Recent focus groups of Trump supporters in Iowa and New Hampshire commissioned by rival campaigns revealed no silver bullet.
In normal times, the way forward would be obvious. The wannabes would launch concerted campaigns, including television attack ads, against the front-runners. But even if the other candidates had a sense of what might work this year, it is unclear whether it would ultimately accrue to their benefit. Trump’s counterpunches have been withering, while Carson’s appeal to the base is spiritual, not merely political. If someone was able to do significant damage to them, there’s no telling to whom their supporters would turn, if anyone.
Trump gave an epic rant on Carson and dumb Iowans in Fort Dodge which has really sent the money crowd off the edge. Carson’s response today is to pray for Trump. What kind of people find either of these guys even attractive as human beings let alone potential presidents?
Ben Carson apparently had a simple response to rival Donald Trump after the real-estate mogul savaged Carson during a Thursday-night stump speech.
“Pray for him,” Carson said, according his business manager Armstrong Williams’ Friday account to CNN.
Williams, who often acts as a Carson surrogate, further lashed into Trump.
“It is so immature,” Williams said. “It is so embarrassing. I feel so sorry for him.”
The day before, Trump launched a no-holds-barred assault against Carson, his top rival in the GOP primary.
Those attacks included Trump doubling down on his comparison of what he has called Carson’s incurable “pathological temper” to child molesters, while at the same time questioning Carson’s account of his violent childhood incidents. This all occurred during a 95-minute speech in Fort Dodge, Iowa.
“How stupid are the people of Iowa? How stupid are the people of the country to believe this crap?” Trump asked his supporters of Carson’s stories.
Trump characterized Carson’s lying as “pathological and akin to child molester’s who can’t be cured. Can you believe this is the level of discourse we’ve come to? Can any of them even talk about a policy that’s remotely good and realistic for the country?
Meanwhile, we’re finally getting some good old fashion press attention to the behavior of the Bush administration prior to the 9/11 attacks. They were all on vacation when a series of warnings crossed their desks. When can we actually get some justice on what they did to this country? This is even from Tiger Beat on the Potomac so will it get enough attention to start the main stream media to focus on the lies to the Iraq War and the intelligence that was ignored or made up at that time?
Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” The CIA’s famous Presidential Daily Brief, presented to George W. Bush on August 6, 2001, has always been Exhibit A in the case that his administration shrugged off warnings of an Al Qaeda attack. But months earlier, starting in the spring of 2001, the CIA repeatedly and urgently began to warn the White House that an attack was coming.
By May of 2001, says Cofer Black, then chief of the CIA’s counterterrorism center, “it was very evident that we were going to be struck, we were gonna be struck hard and lots of Americans were going to die.” “There were real plots being manifested,” Cofer’s former boss, George Tenet, told me in his first interview in eight years. “The world felt like it was on the edge of eruption. In this time period of June and July, the threat continues to rise. Terrorists were disappearing [as if in hiding, in preparation for an attack]. Camps were closing. Threat reportings on the rise.” The crisis came to a head on July 10. The critical meeting that took place that day was first reported by Bob Woodward in 2006. Tenet also wrote about it in general terms in his 2007 memoir At the Center of the Storm.
But neither he nor Black has spoken about it publicly in such detail until now—or been so emphatic about how specific and pressing their warnings really were. Over the past eight months, in more than a hundred hours of interviews, my partners Jules and Gedeon Naudet and I talked with Tenet and the 11 other living former CIA directors for The Spymasters, a documentary set to air this month on Showtime.
The drama of failed warnings began when Tenet and Black pitched a plan, in the spring of 2001, called “the Blue Sky paper” to Bush’s new national security team. It called for a covert CIA and military campaign to end the Al Qaeda threat—“getting into the Afghan sanctuary, launching a paramilitary operation, creating a bridge with Uzbekistan.” “And the word back,” says Tenet, “‘was ‘we’re not quite ready to consider this. We don’t want the clock to start ticking.’” (Translation: they did not want a paper trail to show that they’d been warned.) Black, a charismatic ex-operative who had helped the French arrest the terrorist known as Carlos the Jackal, says the Bush team just didn’t get the new threat: “I think they were mentally stuck back eight years [before]. They were used to terrorists being Euro-lefties—they drink champagne by night, blow things up during the day, how bad can this be? And it was a very difficult sell to communicate the urgency to this.”
That morning of July 10, the head of the agency’s Al Qaeda unit, Richard Blee, burst into Black’s office. “And he says, ‘Chief, this is it. Roof’s fallen in,’” recounts Black. “The information that we had compiled was absolutely compelling. It was multiple-sourced. And it was sort of the last straw.” Black and his deputy rushed to the director’s office to brief Tenet. All agreed an urgent meeting at the White House was needed. Tenet picked up the white phone to Bush’s National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. “I said, ‘Condi, I have to come see you,’” Tenet remembers. “It was one of the rare times in my seven years as director where I said, ‘I have to come see you. We’re comin’ right now. We have to get there.’”
Tenet vividly recalls the White House meeting with Rice and her team. (George W. Bush was on a trip to Boston.) “Rich [Blee] started by saying, ‘There will be significant terrorist attacks against the United States in the coming weeks or months. The attacks will be spectacular. They may be multiple. Al Qaeda’s intention is the destruction of the United States.’” [Condi said:] ‘What do you think we need to do?’ Black responded by slamming his fist on the table, and saying, ‘We need to go on a wartime footing now!’”
“What happened?” I ask Cofer Black. “Yeah. What did happen?” he replies. “To me it remains incomprehensible still. I mean, how is it that you could warn senior people so many times and nothing actually happened? It’s kind of like The Twilight Zone.” Remarkably, in her memoir, Condi Rice writes of the July 10 warnings: “My recollection of the meeting is not very crisp because we were discussing the threat every day.” Having raised threat levels for U.S. personnel overseas, she adds: “I thought we were doing what needed to be done.” (When I asked whether she had any further response to the comments that Tenet, Black and others made to me, her chief of staff said she stands by the account in her memoir.) Inexplicably, although Tenet brought up this meeting in his closed-door testimony before the 9/11 Commission, it was never mentioned in the committee’s final report.
And there was one more chilling warning to come. At the end of July, Tenet and his deputies gathered in the director’s conference room at CIA headquarters. “We were just thinking about all of this and trying to figure out how this attack might occur,” he recalls. “And I’ll never forget this until the day I die. Rich Blee looked at everybody and said, ‘They’re coming here.’ And the silence that followed was deafening. You could feel the oxygen come out of the room. ‘They’re coming here.’”
It’s amazing to me that major failures of policy by Republican administrations never seem to matter to any one as long as the money keeps funneling its way up to the rich and they can keep their base stupid and angry. The deal is that I truly believe that behavior is backfiring on them finally during this election cycle. It’s bad enough that we suffered through the Reagan years and they were characterized quite differently and that so many people believe the hype and not the reality apparent in the facts. My hope is that entangling the neocon policy will bring about a higher realization since so many Americans died as a result. However, look at the Republican Field. We have folks that are either totally clueless on the entire foreign area. For example, Ben Carson actually stated in the last debate that China was active in the Middle East which is not the least bit true. The other side is Jeb and the like who come with the same advisers as Dubya. How can any of this be representative of one of the two parties seeking leadership of the world’s only superpower?
The Blog “The Progressive Professor” discusses how we’ve gone from a place where the Republicans were perceived as the party most knowledgeable and able when it comes to foreign policy to the party that is completely clueless and inept. This should be worrisome to both the American Electorate and the world.
It used to be that the Republican Party had candidates who had a reputation for foreign policy expertise, including Richard Nixon and George H. W. Bush.
Now, we have Rand Paul, representing the isolationist viewpoint; and the viewpoint of the neoconservatives, which includes just about everyone else, all who have apparently learned nothing from the disastrous policies of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. They want to commit US military forces to another war, but of course give not a care to veterans once they come home from war, often wounded physically and mentally by their experience.
And some have not a clue as to what is going on in foreign policy, demonstrating unbelievable ignorance, particularly Dr. Benjamin Carson and Donald Trump.
As this blogger has stated many times in the past few years, in the 2012 election cycle, ONLY Jon Huntsman had any legitimate background in foreign policy; and in the 2016 election cycle, only John Kasich demonstrates any experience in foreign policy, although inferior to that of Huntsman.
One may criticize Barack Obama in some areas of foreign policy, but his top aides and advisers on this have included Vice President Joe Biden, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and present Secretary of State John Kerry. Many would criticize all of them, but in comparison to the Republican camp, they are people of experience and awareness of the complex world we live in!
Donald Trump went as far as to state that Russia was going after ISIL when in fact, Russia has been attacking the anti-Assad Forces supported by the US and allies This article is from the Times of London and clearly illustrates that the Russians are not on our side no matter how much The Donald and The Carly want to brag about their green room romps with Putin.
• Iran was on Thursday night moving up its ground forces in Syria in preparation for an attack to reclaim rebel-held territory under the cover of Russian air strikes, according to sources close to Damascus. Hizbollah, the Lebanese Shia militia which has come to the Assad regime’s rescue in battle-fronts across the country in the past two years, is being prepared to capitalise on the strikes, a Syrian figure close to the regime told The Telegraph
• Sources in Lebanon told Reuters that Iran, which is the main sponsor and tactical adviser to Hizbollah, was sending in hundreds of its own troops to reinforce them. Iran made no comment on the claims but Josh Earnest, the White House spokesman, said the move would be an “apt and powerful illustration” that Russia’s military actions had worsened the conflict.
• A Hizbollah-backed advance would fit the pattern of Russian air-strikes, which have predominantly targeted those rebels not aligned to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant who currently present the gravest threat on the ground to core regime territory.
• The long-term aim would be to defeat or demoralise the non-Isil opposition, so that Isil became the regime’s only enemy. That would force the West to back President Bashar al-Assad against it. “They want to clean the country of non-Isil rebels, and then the US will work with them as Isil will be the only enemy,” the Damascus source said.
But the most amusing category belongs to politicians who defend bogus claims by citing secret evidence that only they have access to. As Rachel noted on the show last night, this comes up more often than it should.
Rep. Duncan Hunter Jr. (R-Calif.), for example, claimed last year to have secret information about ISIS fighters getting caught entering the United States through Mexico, which never happened in reality. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) claimed to have secret evidence that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, which is the exact opposite of the truth.
And then there’s Ben Carson, who claimed this week that China has deployed troops to Syria, despite the fact that China has not deployed troops to Syria. Yesterday, Armstrong Williams, a top Carson campaign aide, defended the claim by pointing to – you guessed it – secret intelligence. Here was the exchange between Williams and MSNBC’s Tamron Hall:
WILLIAMS: Well, Tamron, from your perspective and what most people know, maybe that is inaccurate, but from my intelligence and what Dr. Carson`s been told by people on the ground involved in that area of the world, it has been told to him many times over and over that the Chinese are there. But as far as our intelligence and the briefings that Dr. Carson`s been in, and I`ve certainly been in with him, he`s certainly been told that the Chinese are there.
Last month, the retired right-wing neurosurgeon claimed Russian President Vladimir Putin, Iran Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas all went to college together. When told that didn’t make any sense, Carson insisted he’s talked to “various people” who’ve provided him with unique insights.
You can follow the link to a snippet from Maddow’s show that discusses some absolute bizarre comments from Carson. This includes a really bizarre CBN interview about ties between those three leaders as some kind of dormmates at the same university and that he has secret sources.
So, the question being discussed across coffee at my house is who the hell is supporting these guys and wtf is wrong with them? I’m no psychologist, but what causes a person to go gaga over a pathological liar and a malignant narcissist to the point of thinking they should be president? Why do so many Republicans want Ben Carson in office? (I need to add that this discussion is held between two former Republicans. My friend is a very recent addition to my reformed republican club which I formed 20 years ago having decided that the absolute craziness over gay marriage and adoption was the most bigoted and hateful thing she’d ever seen.)
Here’s some analysis of a poll done by ABC.
Respondents saw Carson’s lack of experience in politics as a strength, not a weakness. Like other Carson supporters we interviewed, Karen Mihalic, 61, loves that the neurosurgeon’s “not like your typical politician.”
“I don’t think politicians are really in tune with the rest of America and what we need,” Mihalic said. “We need someone to shake things up down there.”
Don, 30, who declined to give his last name, said he doesn’t see a difference between Carson’s experience in politics and that of President Obama.
Jeanne Blando, 71, agreed.
“I think Carson will be much more effective than the president we have now,” Blando said.
Carson’s values are important.
But why not support fellow outsider Donald Trump instead? For Blando, it’s all about Carson’s values.
“I love Trump because he says what he thinks, but that won’t work for governing,” Blando said.
Jesse Varoz, 28, called Carson an “upstanding guy.” Richard Medina, 69, said Carson was “truly honest and someone I can depend on.”
“If you listen to [Carson] speak, he thinks about what he’s gonna say, while other candidates do not,” Medina said.
Ignorance is not only bliss, it’s evidently a very attractive and powerful opiate of a good portion of the masses.
What’s on your reading and blogging list today?
I’m not seeing any particular theme in today’s news, but there is quite a bit of good stuff to read; so I’ll just toss out a few items that interested me.
Poor Benjamin Netanyahu. It seems all his efforts to use the Republican Congress to squash President Obama’s negotiations is one big giant fail. He managed to get reelected with the help of John Boehner et al., but that’s about it. First Obama said that Iran recognizing Israel wouldn’t be part of any deal, and then yesterday the White House mocked Bibi on Twitter.
The Washington Post: Why Obama says Iran does not have to recognize Israel as part of a nuclear deal.
President Obama, who doesn’t get along with Netanyahu, seemed to dismiss the Israeli premier’s latest demand in an interview this week. When asked by NPR’s Steve Inskeep whether Iranian recognition of the state of Israel would be included in any final deal, Obama deemed such a move a “fundamental misjudgment.” Here’s an excerpt of his remarks:
Well, let me say this — it’s not that the idea of Iran recognizing Israel is unreasonable. It’s completely reasonable and that’s U.S. policy….
There’s still going to be a whole host of differences between us and Iran, and one of the most profound ones is the vile, anti-Semitic statements that have often come out of the highest levels of the Iranian regime. But the notion that we would condition Iran not getting nuclear weapons, in a verifiable deal, on Iran recognizing Israel is really akin to saying that we won’t sign a deal unless the nature of the Iranian regime completely transforms. And that is, I think, a fundamental misjudgment.
The point here is one that diplomats would take for granted. When attempting to make a deal with your interlocutor, particularly one where there’s a considerable history of grievance and animosity, you can’t expect to win a total capitulation.
Duh. Poor Bibi, like today’s Republicans doesn’t comprehend the notion of compromise.
David Knowles at Bloomberg Politics on the Twitter gag: White House Trolls Netanyahu on Iran with Bomb Graphic.
The White House has employed a graphic first used by Benjamin Netanyahu to push its case for a nuclear deal with Iran that the Israeli Prime Minister opposes. On Wednesday, the president’s office posted a tweet that borrowed the graphic representation of a bomb that Netanyahu had held up during a speech to the United Nation’s General Assembly in which he warned of Iran’s growing nuclear capability.
The fuse on the original image was intact, and there was no sign of the metaphorical scissors or accompanying text that the White House saw fit to add.
And how about this op-ed from the Jerusalem Post: How Netanyahu is single-handedly hurting the US-Israel relationship.
Benjamin Netanyahu is singlehandedly hurting a relationship that has resulted in over $100 billion in military aid to Israel since 1962. The Prime Minister is hurting a relationship with a country that constantly defends Israel at the UN; resulting in over 30 U.S. vetoes of resolutions critical to Israel. Because of Netanyahu, some are wondering if the U.S. should continually give $3.1 billion in annual aid and professors like Harvard’s Steven Strauss have written about ending this perpetual assistance. Sadly, the Prime Minister’s supporters in Israel and abroad don’t seem moved by the magnitude of what could be lost if Netanyahu’s feud with Obama “gets even worse.” [….]
even those whose job it was to protect Israel from the threats trumpeted by Netanyahu feel that the Prime Minister has overstepped the boundaries of rationality.
According to The Jerusalem Post recently, “Former Mossad chief slams Netanyahu for insistence that Iran recognize Israel’s right to exist.” Efraim Halevy also predicted a“dramatic” improvement in Israeli relations with the U.S. if Netanyahu were to be defeated in the latest elections. Another former Mossad chief, Meir Dagan, called Netanyahu’s speech to Congress “bull—t” and views the Prime Minister’s policies as dangerous to Israel’s future. A third former Mossad chief, Tamir Pardo, stated that a nuclear Iran did notpost an existential threat to Israel; a viewpoint directly at odds with the hysteria (fueled by Netanyahu’s political ideology) surrounding Obama’s nuclear deal.
When three former Mossad chiefs are forced to speak out, an Israeli Prime Minister should tone down his paranoid rhetoric, not increase the tempo of his political exploits. Say what you will about Bibi’s critics, but former Mossad chiefs aren’t “leftist” and they know quite a bit about Israeli security threats. Their sober assessment of Netanyahu’s P. T. Barnum inspired diplomacy (regarding Israel’s U.S. relationship) is just cause to reassess the Prime Minister’s behavior; not champion his constant criticism of Obama’s nuclear deal.
The Economist writes that “RARELY have relations between an American president and an Israeli prime minister sunk so low.” The New Yorker published an article titled A Bad Day In American-Israeli Relations. Senator Dianne Feinstein recently stated she wished that Netanyahu “would contain himself” and I echoed the California Senator’s sentiment in a recent Congress Blog piece. Tzipi Livni has warned that Netanyahu is leading Israel into “crisis and diplomatic isolation.” Like Livni, Yair Lapid has lamented over the state of relations between the White House and Israel, stating, “This damage will take a long time to mend.” Everyone from former Mossad chiefs, U.S. Senators, Israeli politicians, and journalist have expressed dismay about the decline in a relationship that is essential to Israel’s future.
From The Washington Post, here’s more interesting news from the White House: White House condemns therapy to ‘cure’ gay youth.
The statement was issued in response to a White House petition signed by more than 120,000 people after the suicide of 17-year-old Leelah Alcorn, a transgender teen from Ohio whose suicide note condemning the society’s treatment of transgender people went viral after her death. In the note, she indicated she had been subjected to such therapies.
“The only way I will rest in peace is if one day transgender people aren’t treated the way I was, they’re treated like humans, with valid feelings and human rights,” Alcorn wrote in her note.
The White House statement, issued by President Obama’s senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, condemned “conversion” therapy, also known as “reparative” therapy, which she defined as any treatment aimed at changing a person’s sexual identity.
“The overwhelming scientific evidence demonstrates that conversion therapy, especially when it is practiced on young people, is neither medically nor ethically appropriate and can cause substantial harm,” she wrote. “As part of our dedication to protecting America’s youth, this Administration supports efforts to ban the use of conversion therapy for minors.”
Shortly before releasing the White House response to the petition on conversion therapy, according to a White House official, Jarrett spoke with organizers of the petition. “She listened to their personal stories about why this was important to them and thanked them for their efforts,” said the official, who asked for anonymity in order to describe a private conversation.
And from The Advocate: The White House’s Executive Office Now Has Gender-Neutral Bathroom.
An all-gender restroom is for the first time available in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, confirms a White House spokesman. Alternatively, guests are invited to use whichever bathroom fits with their gender identity.
“The White House allows staff and guests to use restrooms consistent with their gender identity,” said White House spokesman Jeff Tiller, “which is in keeping with the administration’s existing legal guidance on this issue and consistent with what is required by the executive order that took effect today for federal contractors.”
Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser to President Obama, had mentioned the policy change in an op-ed today for The Advocate, saying the adminstration had “closely examined” its policies on “restroom access” to help “ensure that everyone who enters this building feels safe and fully respected.”
Gender neutral bathrooms, if single-stall, also often offer a safe space to differently abled users, parents with their children, and anyone else seeking privacy.
The push for gender-neutral restrooms in public buildings and workplaces has been one cause taken up by transgender rights activists — and one that’s found the most visible sucecss on university campuses — making Jarrett’s anouncement feel to many like a win for trans Americans.
“It is heartening to see that, even if legislators in some states are attacking the dignity and humanity of transgender and gender-nonconforming people, at least the White House is still moving in the direction of dignity and common sense,” Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, told The Advocate.
Within the past several years, the Obama administration has been increasingly affirming of trans citizens, with Vice President Joe Biden referring in 2012 to transgender discrimination as the “civil rights issue of our time” and President Obama using the word “transgender” (in addition to “lesbian” and “bisexual”) in this year’s State of the Union Address for the first time ever for any president. Federal employees have had the right to use the bathroom that accords with their gender identiy since 2011.
Around the country, heads of Republican homophobes must be exploding. Read the whole article for more on LGBT-positive actions the Obama administration has taken.
Some not so good news: the Secret Service’s credibility continues to slide downhill rapidly.
The D.C. police’s sex-crimes unit and a government inspector general are investigating the female agent’s allegation that Xavier Morales, a manager in the security clearance division, made unwanted sexual advances and grabbed her on the night of March 31 after they returned to the office from a party at a downtown restaurant, according to two law enforcement officials with knowledge of the probe.
The woman told police and agency investigators that Morales, her boss, told her during the party at Capitol City Brewing Company that he was in love with her and would like to have sex with her, according to two people briefed on her statements. In the office later, she alleged, Morales tried to kiss her and grabbed her arms when she resisted, according to the two people briefed on her complaint. The woman alleged that the two scuffled until Morales relented.
Through an agency spokesman, Morales declined to comment, and he did not respond to requests for comment left on his personal phone.
Late last week, the Secret Service took the unusual step of placing Morales on indefinite administrative leave and adding his name to an internal “do not admit” list prohibiting entry to the office, a Secret Service official said. The Secret Service also took away his gun and badge after agency investigators launched a preliminary review of the complaint and conducted “subsequent corroborative interviews” Thursday afternoon, said agency spokesman Brian Leary.
More details at Heavy.com: Xavier Morales: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know.
Ugh. Maybe we need more female Secret Service agents to quell the “boys will be boys” atmosphere in the agency.
More trouble may be coming for NJ governor and possible GOP presidential candidate Chris Christie.
NJ.com reports: Indictments may come very soon in Bridgegate, report says.
Indictments may be coming very soon in Bridgegate, the investigation into improper lane closures at the George Washington Bridge in late 2013 that has also led to questions about bribery and conflicts of interest possibly involving Gov. Christie and the Port Authority, sources told The New York Times.
New Jersey U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman launched the probe a few months after three lanes were closed to the bridge in September 2013, causing gridlock in Fort Lee. The closures were initially attributed to a traffic study by a Port Authority executive, Bill Baroni, but emails unearthed during an investigation revealed that the lanes were shut down on the orders of a Christie aide, Bridget Anne Kelly, to a Port Authority official appointed by Christie, David Wildstein. Some believe the lane closures were retribution for the failure of Fort Lee’s mayor, Mark Sokolich, to endorse Christie’s bid for re-election at a time when the governor and likely Republican presidential candidate was trying to build bipartisan support.
The Times previously reported that Fishman’s office may bring indictments to the operators of the bridge under a little-used statute that makes it a crime to use the bridge for something other than its intended purpose. Fishman’s office declined to say what course the investigation is taking.
This could be very interesting.
I have more news links, but I’m running out of space and time. I’ll add them to the comments.
What stories are you following? I’d love to read your comments on this post and click on your links to your recommended reads for today.
I’m running late again! My schedule is just upside down now and DST just double whammed me on the same weekend I started my late night work. Still getting used to the weird hours. I also wanted to spend some time on the negotiations with Iran over its nuke program so I had to catch up with the news. I’m glad BB’s post was so good because I can see you’ve spent a lot of time commenting on what’s going on in Indiana with its so-called “religious freedom” bill.
Obviously, there are going to be several sides to the “deal” depending on your views and their connections to US/Israel policy. So, I thought I’d highlight a few. Max Fisher–writing for VOX–says the deal is “astonishingly good.”
When Aaron Stein was studying nuclear non-proliferation at Middlebury College’s Monterey graduate program, the students would sometimes construct what they thought would be the best possible nuclear inspection and monitoring regimes.
Years later, Stein is now a Middle East and nuclear proliferation expert with the Royal United Services Institute. And he says the Iran nuclear framework agreement, announced on Thursday, look an awful lot like those ideal hypotheticals he’d put together in grad school.
“When I was doing my non-proliferation training at Monterey, this is the type of inspection regime that we would dream up in our heads,” he said. “We would hope that this would be the way to actually verify all enrichment programs, but thought that would never be feasible.
“If these are the parameters by which the [final agreement] will be signed, then this is an excellent deal,” Stein concluded.
The framework nuclear deal establishes only the very basics; negotiators will continue to meet to try to turn them into a complete, detailed agreement by the end of June. Still, the terms in the framework, unveiled to the world after a series of late- and all-night sessions, are remarkably detailed and almost astoundingly favorable to the United States.
Like many observers, I doubted in recent months that Iran and world powers would ever reach this stage; the setbacks and delays had simply been too many. Now, here we are, and the terms are far better than expected. There are a number of details still to be worked out, including one very big unresolved issue that could potentially sink everything. This is not over. But if this framework does indeed become a full nuclear deal in July, it would be a huge success and a great deal.
According to Reuters, Iranians were celebrating in the street as the deal was announced yesterday. The country has been living under harsh embargoes which have obviously hurt ordinary people.
Iranians celebrated in the streets after negotiators reached a framework for a nuclear accord and U.S. President Barack Obama hailed an “historic understanding”, but senior global diplomats cautioned that hard work lies ahead to strike a final deal.
The tentative agreement, struck on Thursday after eight days of talks in Switzerland, clears the way for a settlement to allay Western fears that Iran could build an atomic bomb, with economic sanctions on Tehran being lifted in return.
It marks the most significant step toward rapprochement between Washington and Tehran since the 1979 Iranian revolution and could bring an end to decades of Iran’s international isolation.
But the deal still requires experts to work out difficult details before a self-imposed June deadline and diplomats said it could collapse at any time before then.
The backlash from likely Republican presidential contenders to thepotential nuclear deal with Iran trumpeted Thursday by President Barack Obama came swift and hard. A more optimistic response came from likely 2016 Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said the deal — aimed at reining in Iran’s nuclear capabilities — “will only legitimize those activities.”
“Nothing in the deal described by the administration this afternoon would justify lifting U.S. and international sanctions, which were the product of many years of bipartisan effort,” Bush said. “I cannot stand behind such a flawed agreement.”
Clinton, meanwhile, held up the tentative agreement as an “important step” in preventing a nuclear Iran.
“Getting the rest of the way to a final deal by June won’t be easy, but it is absolutely crucial. I know well that the devil is always in the details in this kind of negotiation,” Clinton said in a statement. “The onus is on Iran and the bar must be set high. It can never be permitted to acquire a nuclear weapon.”
But the former secretary of state allowed leeway for herself in case things go awry in the coming months, stating, “There is much to do and much more to say in the months ahead, but for now diplomacy deserves a chance to succeed.”
The rest of the Republican field, however, coalesced around rejecting the deal.
Making his first trek to Iowa as an announced presidential candidate, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz contended the President must bring Congress into the process.
“The very first step for any deal, good or bad, should be submitting it to Congress, and the President making the case both to Congress and to the American people why this advances the national security interests of the United States,” Cruz told reporters after a town hall in Cedar Rapids. “Now everything President Obama has said up to this date has suggested that he is going to do everything he can to circumvent Congress.”
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, described the early details of the agreement as “very troubling” and said “this attempt to spin diplomatic failure as a success is just the latest example of this administration’s farcical approach to Iran.”
Obama pushed to quiet skeptics of the framework during his remarks in the White House Rose Garden Thursday, asking, “Do you really think that this verifiable deal, if fully implemented, backed by the world’s major powers, is a worse option than the risk of another war in the Middle East?”
As Mr. Obama stepped into the Rose Garden to announce what he called a historic understanding, he seemed both relieved that it had come together and combative with those in Congress who would tear it apart. While its provisions must be translated into writing by June 30, he presented it as a breakthrough that would, if made final, make the world a safer place, the kind of legacy any president would like to leave. “This has been a long time coming,” he said.
Mr. Obama cited the same John F. Kennedy quote he referenced earlier in the week when visiting a new institute dedicated to the former president’s brother, Senator Edward M. Kennedy: “Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate.” The sense of celebration was captured by aides standing nearby in the Colonnade who exchanged fist bumps at the end of the president’s remarks.
But Mr. Obama will have a hard time convincing a skeptical Congress, where Republicans and many Democrats are deeply concerned that he has grown so desperate to reach a deal that he is trading away American and Israeli security. As he tries to reach finality with Iran, he will have to fend off legislative efforts, joined even by some of his friends, to force a tougher posture.
THE “KEY parameters” for an agreement on Iran’s nuclear program released Thursday fall well short of the goals originally set by the Obama administration. None of Iran’s nuclear facilities — including the Fordow center buried under a mountain — will be closed. Not one of the country’s 19,000 centrifuges will be dismantled. Tehran’s existing stockpile of enriched uranium will be “reduced” but not necessarily shipped out of the country. In effect, Iran’s nuclear infrastructure will remain intact, though some of it will be mothballed for 10 years. When the accord lapses, the Islamic republic will instantly become a threshold nuclear state.
That’s a long way from the standard set by President Obama in 2012 when he declared that “the deal we’ll accept” with Iran “is that they end their nuclear program” and “abide by the U.N. resolutions that have been in place.” Those resolutions call for Iran to suspend the enrichment of uranium. Instead, under the agreement announced Thursday, enrichment will continue with 5,000 centrifuges for a decade, and all restraints on it will end in 15 years.
Mr. Obama argued forcefully — and sometimes combatively — Thursday that the United States and its partners had obtained “a good deal” and that it was preferable to the alternatives, which he described as a nearly inevitable slide toward war. He also said he welcomed a “robust debate.” We hope that, as that debate goes forward, the president and his aides will respond substantively to legitimate questions, rather than claim, as Mr. Obama did, that the “inevitable critics” who “sound off” prefer “the risk of another war in the Middle East.”
The proposed accord will provide Iran a huge economic boost that will allow it to wage more aggressively the wars it is already fighting or sponsoring across the region. Whether that concession is worthwhile will depend in part on details that have yet to be agreed upon, or at least publicly explained. For example, the guidance released by the White House is vague in saying that U.S. and European Union sanctions “will be suspended after” international inspectors have “verified that Iran has taken all of its key nuclear related steps.”
“I just came from a meeting of the Israeli cabinet. We discussed the proposed framework for a deal with Iran.
The cabinet is united in strongly opposing the proposed deal.
This deal would pose a grave danger to the region and to the world and would threaten the very survival of the State of Israel.
The deal would not shut down a single nuclear facility in Iran, would not destroy a single centrifuge in Iran and will not stop R&D on Iran’s advanced centrifuges.
On the contrary. The deal would legitimize Iran’s illegal nuclear program. It would leave Iran with a vast nuclear infrastructure. A vast nuclear infrastructure remains in place.
The deal would lift sanctions almost immediately and this at the very time that Iran is stepping up its aggression and terror in the region and beyond the region.
In a few years, the deal would remove the restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program, enabling Iran to have a massive enrichment capacity that it could use to produce many nuclear bombs within a matter of months.
The deal would greatly bolster Iran’s economy. It would give Iran thereby tremendous means to propel its aggression and terrorism throughout the Middle East.
Such a deal does not block Iran’s path to the bomb.
Is he the little boy that has cried wolf too often?
Anyway, I hope you’ll read up on the situation since it stands to be one of the biggest foreign policy agreements for quite some time.
What’s on your reading and blogging list today?
Good morning, or afternoon, or…
whatever time of day it is.
It’s been 30 years since Quincy Jones got the gang together and cut that record: ‘We Are the World’ at 30: Stars Will Never Be That Earnest Again — The Atlantic
I used to make fun of that song when it came out. But you got to admit it did have a shitload of talent on there…
In the late-night hours of January 28, 1985, Quincy Jones ushered some of the world’s most famous pop stars into the A&M Studios in Los Angeles. Among them were Michael Jackson, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Billy Joel, Diana Ross, Cyndi Lauper, Willie Nelson, Bruce Springsteen, Smokey Robinson, and Kenny Rogers. The stars—46 of them in all, many of them at the height of their careers—were greeted with a sign: “Check your egos at the door.”
This was both impossible and appropriate. The vocalists—an ad-hoc supergroup that would come to be known, pragmatically, as “USA for Africa”—were there to record, over the course of a long night, a song that was written for them by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie, inspired by Harry Belafonte, and produced, in part, by Jones. It was to be a charity drive in musical form. Proceeds from the song’s sales, the idea went, would go toward alleviating a famine in Ethiopia. It was a song that was also an idea: “We Are the World.”
…We are the dumbass racist children/GOP Senators and Governors who will not make the world a better place…so fuck your charity and peace, give us treason, war and segregation…with a good ol’ fashioned lynching/shooting on the side.
Yeah, it has really gotten fucked up since then, just a few examples from the last few days.
Regarding lynchings, treason and war, case in point as follows, in link dump format:
Number 1= A group of frat boys singing a sweet little sing song anthem that is sure to make the SAE, Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity a much better place: Oklahoma Frat Boys Caught Singing ‘There Will Never Be A N***** In SAE’
The nine-second video, uploaded by an anonymous user on YouTube, shows a group of college students in formal attire clapping while they sing racist lyrics to the tune of “If You’re Happy And You Know It” during a date function. The lyrics as heard in the video are:
“There will never be a n***** in SAE.
There will never be a n***** in SAE.
You can hang him from a tree, but he can never sign with me
There will never be a n***** in SAE.”
Video is at the link, if you want to see it. I couldn’t bring myself to watch it.
Number 2= The parents who produced one of the “children” on the video…say he is not racist, but I think the picture at this link says it all. Parker Rice, parents of Levi Pettit apologize for ‘horrible mistake’ made in OU SAE video | Dallas Morning News
Brody and Susan Pettit, parents of recent Highland Park High School graduate Levi Pettit.
“As parents of Levi, we love him and care for him deeply,” says the statement, which has also been posted on this website. “He made a horrible mistake, and will live with the consequences forever. However, we also know the depth of our son’s character. He is a good boy, but what we saw in those videos is disgusting. While it may be difficult for those who only know Levi from the video to understand, we know his heart, and he is not a racist. We raised him to be loving and inclusive and we all remain surrounded by a diverse, close-knit group of friends.
“To our friends and family, thank you for your kind comments and prayers. They are very comforting in this difficult time.“We were as shocked and saddened by this news as anyone. Of course, we are sad for our son — but more importantly, we apologize to the community he has hurt. We would also like to apologize to the — entire African American community, University of Oklahoma student body and administration. Our family has the responsibility to apologize, and also to seek forgiveness and reconciliation. Our words will only go so far — as a family, we commit to following our words with deeds.
“We ask that the media and public please respect our family’s privacy as we come together to heal and determine next steps.”
Parker Rice — the recent Jesuit College Preparatory School of Dallas graduate — sent his own apology, via his father Bob. Here it is in full:
“I am deeply sorry for what I did Saturday night. It was wrong and reckless. I made a horrible mistake by joining into the singing and encouraging others to do the same. On Monday, I withdrew from the university, and sadly, at this moment our family is not able to be in our home because of threatening calls as well as frightening talk on social media.
“I know everyone wants to know why or how this happened. I admit it likely was fueled by alcohol consumed at the house before the bus trip, but that’s not an excuse. Yes, the song was taught to us, but that too doesn’t work as an explanation. It’s more important to acknowledge what I did and what I didn’t do. I didn’t say no, and I clearly dismissed an important value I learned at my beloved high school, Dallas Jesuit. We were taught to be ‘Men for Others.’ I failed in that regard, and in those moments, I also completely ignored the core values and ethics I learned from my parents and others.
“At this point, all I can do is be thoughtful and prayerful about my next steps, but I am also concerned about the fraternity friends still on campus. Apparently, they are feeling unsafe and some have been harassed by others. Hopefully, the university will protect them.
“For me, this is a devastating lesson and I am seeking guidance on how I can learn from this and make sure it never happens again. My goal for the long-term is to be a man who has the heart and the courage to reject racism wherever I see or experience it in the future.
“Thank you for your consideration of my deepest apologies for what I did.”
Levi Pettit is super sorry that he sang that stupid racist song. Sweet ride, eh? – Twitter
In a time of Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, and a few other social media thingy-mcApps that allow us to share every waking moment of our lives with others because we are all so amazingly interesting, it took a surprising long time for the identities of the two OU SAE-bros who led their frat brothers and their dates in a merry old racist sing-along to be revealed.
Undoubtedly it had to do with the fact that all white entitled Bieber-haired preppy douchebags look alike and, as a white person, it is totally not racist for me to say that.
The two strapping young Leaders of Tomorrow with the destined-to-be-in-a-frat-by-virtue-of-their-names are Parker Rice and Levi Pettit. For those who had Chad or Todd in your office pool… so close, and my condolences.
In a time-honored tradition handed down from generation to generation of white men who come from affluent families with the means to make “indiscretions go away,” the two young men, both of whom are old enough to enlist in the military and serve their country, have manned up and apologized.
And by “manned up and apologized” I mean they have issued — or had issued for them — artisanal hand-crafted statements lovingly and carefully composed by family attorneys and “crisis managers.”
TBogg’s take on their statements:
Notable in both statements is the word “mistake,” and not in the “It was a mistake that I got caught being my white privileged drunken unaccountable-for-anything dumbass self” kind of way.
Parker Rice’s…After admitting that it was the demon rum that made him sing the song while also saying that is no excuse — but still, just sayin’ ya know – we learn that it obliterated everything he learned at Jesuit prep school (“Men for Others“), and that he is concerned for his fellow frat bros.
Rice then moves on to my personal favorite : the ‘teachable moment’
if the mention of the “diverse, close-knit group of friends” didn’t make you roll your eyes so hard you detached a retina, well, there is this:
We ask that the media and public please respect our family’s privacy as we come together to heal and determine next steps.
Victims of sexual assault need time to “heal.” Soldiers who served multiple tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan and suffer from PTSD need time to “heal” — if that is even possible. Families of unarmed African-American teenagers who are gunned down in the street by trigger-happy cops who know there will be no repercussions in a country where black lives don’t matter – they need time to “heal” although that pain will never ever go away.
But the families of privileged young men who think it perfectly fine to lead drunken sing-alongs to songs about lynching “niggers” on a party bus?
They don’t get to plead for time to “heal” while at the same time explaining that their son is actually a swell kid of sound character who deep deep down has a really good heart… just like we raised him. Hooray for us.
He’s a racist, and racism begins at home.
Heal that, then get back to us…
But you know…It isn’t like this is something new, this shit has been going on for evah:
My husband is a SAE brother. I haven’t asked him about it, I will let you know what he says…and if they had this little diddy of a song over at their chapter at USF. (He says they didn’t have that song, but they did not have any blacks in their frat…they had all other races, Jews, Latinos, Asians etc. He said that USF had two or three other black fraternities on campus so, blah blah blah…)
What number was I on?
Number 3? Alright then…
Number 3= Dumbass cops who shoot to kill unarmed naked black men, because…I don’t know, they save the tasers for the old people in wheelchairs?
A white police officer shot and killed an unarmed black man at an apartment complex in Chamblee, Ga. Monday afternoon. The man has been identified as 27-year-old Anthony Hill; he is believed to have suffered from mental illness.
…the officer, who has since been placed on administrative leave, also had access to a Taser and pepper spray.
Ferguson fallout: Ferguson manager is 5th out after DOJ report alleging bias : News
The Mayor still has his job.
When you watch enough porn that investigators have to compile spreadsheets, you know you’re in trouble.
I guess the question is, Are You Smarter Than a Cop?
Yeah, cops make an arrest, but don’t understand the law they supposedly used to pull the car over to begin with.
Darisse was monitoring northbound traffic on a stretch of Interstate 77 near Dobson, North Carolina. He says that just around 8:00 a.m. he saw a Ford Escort pass his car. According to Darisse, the driver looked nervous, staring forward and gripping the steering wheel, so he decided to pull onto the road and follow the car. After a few miles, Darisse says the Escort approached some traffic and braked. That’s when he noticed that one of the car’s brake lights, the right one, was out. It was all the reason he needed, he thought,to initiate a stop.
It would have been just another drug bust except for one thing: North Carolina has no law against operating a vehicle with just one brake light.
A misunderstanding of the law, what does that remind you of?
Which leads me to:
Number 4= The idiot traitors in our midst.
As 47 Republican Senators have taken the plunge to be treasonous obstructionists, some on the right are just now realizing the magnitude of this mistake, and they are not happy.
Only seven Republicans abstained from the letter, including Bob Corker, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Corker told The Daily Beast that a letter was not the way to go nor was is appropriate:
“I didn’t think it was going to further our efforts to get to a place where Congress would play the appropriate role that it should on Iran. I did not think that the letter was something that was going to help get us to an outcome that we’re all seeking, and that is Congress playing that appropriate role. I immediately knew that it was not something that, for me anyway, in my particular role, was going to be constructive. “I didn’t realize until this weekend that it had the kind of momentum that it had.”
Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, who is also a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that the letter would further cause more “animosity” between Congress and the White House and that the issue of Iran was “too important to divide us among partisan lines.” Senator Flake also pointed out that what President Obama is negotiating is an agreement, not a treaty, and also sided with Corker in the assertion that the letter was inappropriate, saying:
“I just didn’t feel that it was appropriate or productive at this point. These are tough enough negotiations as it stands, and introducing this kind of letter, I didn’t think would be helpful.”
John McCain, the senior Senator from Arizona, also signed the letter. Perhaps Flake should have a talk with him. Furthermore, when you have the most power member on foreign issues in the Senate not signing a letter undermining foreign relations, maybe you shouldn’t do it. But the junior senator from Arkansas thought he’d get his 15 minutes of fame by committing high treason in violation of the Logan Act. What a great way to start your Senate career.
The rest of the seven who did not sign are at that link as well.
When asked what an acceptable deal would look like to him, Cotton answered “complete nuclear disarmament by Iran.”“They can simply disarm their nuclear weapons program and allow complete intrusive inspections,” Cotton said.The Arkansan added that he wants Iranians to “completely disarm their nuclear weapons program.”It’s worth emphasizing that Iran does not have nuclear weapons. “Disarming” sounds like a worthy goal, but it’s difficult to get rid of weapons that do not currently exist.
(I know my words are way off this morning, and I am not making sense, but I am on zero sleep…and the fun continues. Jake’s sugar levels were at 500 this a.m.)
Number 5: Extreme punishments or prison terms or fines….this is just fucked up:
Kevin McGill was picking up trash too early. So the sanitation worker was sent to jail.
A city ordinance in Sandy Springs, Georgia, limited the trash collection times to between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. McGill began collecting trash at 5 a.m., which the city solicitor said was leading to complaints about noise from neighbors.
McGill agreed to a plea deal and was originally sentenced to 30 days in jail, which could be served on the weekends. Fortunately, his sentence was suspended this week after the city’s solicitor changed his tune.
Mind you, this was a first time offense.
Next up…trying to escape an abusive relationship, while female?
Cherelle Baldwin is serving her 21st month in prison, even after a Connecticut jury refused to convict her.
Read that if you can stomach it.
From Florida, and a town I used to live in: One apartment complex’s rule: You write a bad review, we fine you $10k | Ars Technica
The picture of this execution chair is enough to get put in the extreme category: Utah set to bring back death sentence by firing squad | Miami Herald Miami Herald
This June 18, 2010, file photo shows the firing squad execution chamber at the Utah State Prison in Draper, Utah.
Big numbers here: 250,000 Japanese still displaced 4 years after quake
And you want to talk about emails? Emails Reveal Lobbyist Had Undisclosed Role In Cuomo Financial Crisis Investigation – ProPublica
Last few links:
If all that was not depressing enough:
Shit. He ruined Dark Shadows, imagine what he will do with the Pink Elephants on Parade?
Final link is a group of stuff about women: Physics geniuses, Mexican rappers, LEGO Supreme Court: It’s Woman Crush Wednesday | Grist
This past Sunday, March 8, was International Women’s Day — although, it’s worth mentioning that because of Daylight Savings in the good ol’ US of A, we couldn’t even get a whole 24 hours to celebrate womanhood. Typical. To make up for that, we hope you take a whole hour today to relax and enjoy our WCW roundup for this week — ladies, you deserve it!
That is it, I am going to try and get some sleep.
Here is the full performance of Queen at Live Aid:
Catch ya later…treat this as an open thread.
So, I’m going to write briefly about something that’s been fascinating me lately. That’s the incredible decrease in oil prices and the impact that it’s having on Russia and other oil producing nations outside of the Emirates and Saudi Arabia . I’m a sucker for a good currency crisis since it’s basically right up my research alley.
Also, oil has been one of those commodities that’s pretty much dominated my adult life. I remember having to buy gas on even days because the Dealer’s tags on our cars ended in 8 during the oil crisis. I know what it did to my dad’s business as a car dealer. Basically, oil’s been the most fungible commodity in modern times. No modern economy can live without it. We’ve definitely fought wars to control it. Oil’s being weaponized like never before.
There are several key factors driving down your gas at the pump. First, the global economy has slowed down so that the demand for oil has tapered off. That’s one thing that’s been at play. But the more interesting factor has been the increase in supply which is related to the interesting way that Saudis have been ignoring OPEC quotas and inching up the supply. There’s been some rumors going around–actual conspiracy theories– that they are doing so for three reasons. First, they want to make sure that the nascent tar sands oil industry in North America isn’t profitable. Second, they want to hurt Iran, Syria, and Iraq and any other Shia nation involved with oil production. The third reason is to get at Russia. I want to share what I’ve found on these fronts with you. It has the feel of a new kind of cold war and the opposite of the gas wars of the 1970s.
Russia just experienced a “Black Monday” in that the Russian Stock market has collapsed as has the ruble. The Russia economy is heavily dependent on oil exports so any decrease in oil prices has an impact. These continued price decreases have their economy on the verge of failure. The entire situation has been exacerbated by UN Sanction against the country for its invasion and intervention in the Ukraine. It’s not pretty.
In recent weeks, the fall in the Russian ruble and Russian stock markets closely tracked the declines in global oil prices. But everything changed on December 15. The oil price remained stable, but the ruble and the stock-price indices lost 30% in the subsequent 24 hours. An unprecedented effort by the Central Bank of Russia (CBR) in the wee hours of December 16 to stabilize the ruble, by hiking the interest rate from 10.5% to 17%, proved useless.
The cause of Russia’s “Black Monday” was readily apparent: the government bailout of state-owned Rosneft, the country’s largest oil company. Usually, bailouts calm markets; but this one recalled early post-Soviet experiments, when the CBR issued direct loans to enterprises – invariably fueling higher inflation. The CBR’s governor at the time, Viktor Gerashchenko, was once dubbed the world’s worst central banker.
In 2014, the CBR is more constrained than it was in Gerashchenko’s era: it cannot lend directly to firms. Yet it has also become more sophisticated at achieving the same ends that Gerashchenko sought.
In October, Rosneft issued $11 billion worth of ruble-denominated bonds (an unparalleled amount for the Russian market, equivalent to 70% of the total value of corporate bonds issued in Russia this year). The coupon on these bonds was actually 1.5 percentage points below sovereign bonds of similar maturity, which is also unusual, especially given that Rosneft currently is subject to Western sanctions.
Then, unnamed investors (allegedly the largest Russian state banks) benefited from the CBR’s decision on December 12 to allow these bonds to be used as collateral for three-year CBR ruble loans at the policy rate. Moreover, the CBR scheduled a special auction for such loans on December 15 – with the total amount of the loans similar to that of Rosneft’s bond issue. Thus, the CBR would be able to provide a massive pile of rubles to Rosneft at below-market rates. So why did the deal trigger a panic?
At first glance, this deal was intended to meet contemporary Russia’s most important economic challenge. Sanctions have cut off Russian banks and companies from Western financial markets. Russian companies have to repay or refinance about $300 billion of debt over the coming two years. Some of this debt is owed to Russian companies’ offshore owners, who will certainly be happy to roll it over. But in most cases, firms’ liabilities comprise real debt owed to major international banks.
Global investors are anxiously awaiting some kind of strategy for recovery. Actions by the Central Bank of Russia have been very curious. All of the countries that depend on oil exports for huge amounts of their funding are in trouble. Russia is probably just the most obvious of them. This goes for Iran also. That’s because both of them are heavily weighed down by UN sanctions.
The non-OPEC producing countries (Russia, Brazil and Norway, as examples) are starting to become backed into an economic corner. In all of these countries, oil represents a major export and helps finance other economic activities. For example, as Russia sells oil in the open market (priced in dollars) at $60 per barrel, the revenue in dollars is 50 percent less than was the case in June of this year. Since June, the Russian Ruble has declined by 59 percent (to the U.S. dollar). A “crash” in the value of any currency leads to very high inflation (imports are now more expensive than would have otherwise been the case), which leads to potential civil unrest. On a global scale, the “wealth” of Russia as a nation, priced in Rubles, has declined by 59 percent in the last six months.
This is the stuff that leads to revolutions. Oil, other commodities and vodka are about the only exports Russia creates and helps fund their country’s spending. They are net importers of most all consumption goods (health supplies, food, etc.). In their own currency, those imports are now 59 percent more expensive than they were this past summer.
To some, the problem Russia currently faces sounds like something Vladimir Putin created by his dalliances in the Crimea and Ukraine. There is some truth to this as those actions led to economic sanctions unleashed by the West on Russia. The oil pricing issue is indirectly due to his destructive behavior. What really matters to the rest of the world at this stage is the potential for economic weakness to spread to the rest of the world from Russia… monetary contagion, anyone?
How would this happen? Why would the rest of the world be negatively affected by weakness in the Russian Ruble? Russia’s economy is the world’s eighth largest (as measured by the IMF ), a little larger than Italy and a little smaller than Brazil. At about $2.1 trillion in GDP, Russia is dwarfed by the United States at $17.5 trillion. If Russia’s economy contracts by 4 percent (which potentially is in the cards for 2015), it will impact the world’s GDP by about $84 billion, or .1 percent. No big deal. However, let’s think not about the world’s income statement (GDP) but rather about the world’s balance sheet – the world’s banking system.
Most Russian national debt is priced in Rubles and the value of that debt has collapsed from six months ago when the Ruble was higher and Russian interest rates were dramatically lower. Russia’s public debt is $216 billion. The Russian benchmark interest rate was at 7.5 percent in June of this year – that interest rate is now 17 percent.
How much this impacts any other country has a lot to do on how many banks hold Ruble-denominated assets or liabilities. The interesting thing is that Saudi Arabia seems no where done with its dalliance in increasing oil supply. This particular bit of news is what motivated me to finally bring this up here. The emirates and Saudi Arabia seem willing to dig into their own sovereign wealth and their countries’ spending to see this through. They must be extremely serious about something. Is it the threat from Shia Muslims? From US Fracking Oil? Do they just plain hate the Russians?
Saudi Arabia’s Cabinet on Thursday endorsed a 2015 budget that projects a slight increase in spending and a significant drop in revenues due to sliding oil prices, resulting in a nearly $39 billion deficit
In a sign of mounting financial pressure, the Finance Ministry said the government would try to cut back on salaries, wages and allowances, which “contribute to about 50 percent of total budgeted expenditures.” That could stir resentment among the kingdom’s youth, who make up a majority of the population and are increasingly struggling to find affordable housing and salaries that cover their cost of living.
The price of oil— the backbone of Saudi Arabia’s economy — has fallen by about a half since the summer. Saudi Arabia is extremely wealthy, but there are deep wealth disparities and youth unemployment is expected to mushroom absent a dramatic rise in private sector job creation. The International Monetary Fund says almost two-thirds of employed Saudis work for the government.
A the height of Arab Spring protests sweeping the region in 2011, King Abdullah pledged $120 billion to fund a number of projects, including job creation and hikes in public sector wages. The move was largely seen as an effort to appease the public and blunt any challenges to monarchical rule.
Associate Fellow and energy researcher at Chatham House, Valerie Marcel, said massive government spending across the Gulf on public sector salaries is “really the thing that keeps the lid on the bottle.” She said that for now the Arab monarchies of the Gulf can afford to run deficits due to surpluses accumulated over the years from high oil prices.
Now that’s commitment. There’s actually some discussion around that the US and the Saudis basically colluded to drop oil prices. This all is happening while OPEC has called for widespread production cuts. Anyone with a little game theory background along with economics know that this is a deadly game. The ones that cut their production will lose income.
Turning to the current price drop, the Saudis and OPEC have a vested interest in taking out higher-cost competitors, such as US shale oil producers, who will certainly be hurt by the lower price. Even before the price drop, the Saudis were selling their oil to China at a discount. OPEC’s refusal on Nov. 27 to cut production seemed like the baldest evidence yet that the oil price drop was really an oil price war between Saudi Arabia and the US.
However, analysis shows the reasoning is complex, and may go beyond simply taking down the price to gain back lost marketshare.
“What is the reason for the United States and some U.S. allies wanting to drive down the price of oil?” Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro asked rhetorically in October. “To harm Russia.”
Many believe the oil price plunge is the result of deliberate and well-planned collusion on the part of the United States and Saudi Arabia to punish Russia and Iran for supporting the murderous Assad regime in Syria.
Punishing Assad and friends
Proponents of this theory point to a Sept. 11 meeting between US Secretary of State John Kerry and Saudi King Abdullah at his palace on the Red Sea. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, it was during that meeting that a deal was hammered out between Kerry and Abdullah. In it, the Saudis would support Syrian airstrikes against Islamic State (ISIS), in exchange for Washington backing the Saudis in toppling Assad.
If in fact a deal was struck, it would make sense, considering the long-simmering rivalry between Saudi Arabia and its chief rival in the region: Iran. By opposing Syria, Abdullah grabs the opportunity to strike a blow against Iran, which he sees as a powerful regional rival due to its nuclear ambitions, its support for militant groups Hamas and Hezbollah, and its alliance with Syria, which it provides with weapons and funding. The two nations are also divided by religion, with the majority of Saudis following the Sunni version of Islam, and most Iranians considering themselves Shi’ites.
“The conflict is now a full-blown proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia, which is playing out across the region,” Reuters reported on Dec. 15. “Both sides increasingly see their rivalry as a winner-take-all conflict: if the Shi’ite Hezbollah gains an upper hand in Lebanon, then the Sunnis of Lebanon—and by extension, their Saudi patrons—lose a round to Iran. If a Shi’ite-led government solidifies its control of Iraq, then Iran will have won another round.”
The Saudis know the Iranians are vulnerable on the oil price. Experts say the country needs $140 a barrel oil to balance its budget; at sub-$60 prices, the Saudis succeed in pressuring Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamanei, possibly containing its nuclear ambitions and making the country more pliable to the West, which has the power to reduce or lift sanctions if Iran cooperates.
Adding credence to this theory, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani told a Cabinet meeting earlier this month that the fall in oil prices was “politically motivated” and a “conspiracy against the interests of the region, the Muslim people and the Muslim world.”
So, you can see, there’s a little bit of economy theory blended with conspiracy theory here. Frankly, I”m all for Saudi Arabia crippling American Fracking even though I’m sitting in a state where things will only go from bad to worse in this situation. (Although I will mention I’m actively looking at real estate in Washington State right now.)
Despite repetition in countless media accounts and analysts’ notes over the past few weeks, though, the idea of a “sheikhs vs. shale” battle to control global oil supplies has precious little evidence behind it. The Saudi-led decision to keep OPEC’s wells pumping is a direct strike by Riyadh on two already hobbled geopolitical rivals, Iran and Russia, whose support for the Syrian government and other geostrategic machinations are viewed as far more serious threats to the kingdom than the inconvenience of competing for market share with American frackers.
Among the world’s oil producing nations, few suffer more from the Saudi move than Tehran and Moscow. At a time when both are already saddled with economic sanctions — Russia for its actions in Ukraine and Iran for its alleged pursuit of nuclear weapons technology — the collapse of oil prices has put unprecedented pressure on these regimes. For Russia, the crisis has hit very hard, with the ruble losing 40 percent of its value to the dollar since October. This is particularly problematic since Russian state-owned oil firms have gone on a dollar-borrowing spree in recent years; now, servicing that debt looks very ominous.
True, Saudi OPEC minister Ali al-Naimi insisted last month that the move was intended to target shale. But he would say that, wouldn’t he? After all, his OPEC counterparts were standing beside him — including the OPEC minister from Iran.
The fact is, Saudi Arabia has little to fear from shale. Saudi Arabia’s huge reserves of conventional oil can and probably will be produced for decades after the shale boom has run its course — which the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) expects to happen by 2050 or so — and at much lower costs.
So, that one could be just a conspiracy theory. Anyway, it is very interesting situation that seems to converge economics with geopolitics. It won’t be the first time that oil and other commodities have been used as weapons. The Spanish Empire was taken down by its gold lust and hoarding by Good Queen Bess as one example. It’s really interesting no matter what the rationale.
For all our worries over Russia, however, we in Britain should not lose sight of the humiliation of another swaggering and once-mighty force in world politics, the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). When it burst on the world scene 40 years ago, OPEC terrified the wasteful West.
Over the previous decades, we had grown used to abundant oil, bought mostly from Middle Eastern producers — with little global muscle — at rock- bottom prices.
However, OPEC changed that. By restricting supply, the cartel quadrupled the oil price, from $3 to $12.
Saudis remain in a strong position because oil is cheap to produce there. Above, the country’s Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources Ali Ibrahim Naimi
That is only a fraction of today’s price — but the oil crisis sparked by the rocketing cost in 1974 was enough to lead to queues at filling stations and national panics in the pitifully unprepared industrialised world.
Four decades later, Saudi Arabia has become one of the richest countries in the world, with reserves totalling nearly $900 billion.
But the rest of the world is less at its mercy than it once was. Here in Britain, our energy consumption is dropping remorselessly — the result of increased energy efficiency.
Moreover, many other nations now produce oil. And oil can be replaced by other fuels, such as natural gas, which OPEC does not control.
Also, OPEC no longer has the discipline or the clout to dominate the market, and we in Britain are among the big winners from all this, reaping the benefits of lower costs to fill up our cars and power our industries.
At its meeting in Vienna last month, the OPEC oil cartel — which controls nearly 40 per cent of global production — faced a fateful choice.
Would it curb production and thus, by reducing supplies, try to ratchet the oil price back to something near $100 a barrel — the level most of its members need to balance their books? Or would it let the glut continue?
The organisation’s 12 member countries, including Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Venezuela and Nigeria, chose to do nothing, proving that its once-mighty power has withered. Oil prices subsequently fell even further.
One central problem is that several of OPEC’s members detest each other for a variety of reasons.
Above all, Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies see Iran — a bitter religious and political opponent — as their main regional adversary.
They know that Iran, dominated by the Shia Muslim sect, supports a resentful underclass of more than a million under-privileged and angry Shia people living in the gulf peninsula — a potential uprising waiting to happen against the Saudi regime.
The Saudis, who are overwhelmingly Sunni Muslims, also loathe the way Iran supports President Assad’s regime in Syria — with which the Iranians have a religious affiliation. They also know that Iran, its economy plagued by corruption and crippled by Western sanctions, desperately needs the oil price to rise. And they have no intention of helping out.
The fact is that the Saudis remain in a strong position because oil is cheap to produce there, and the country has such vast reserves. It can withstand a year — or three — of low oil prices.
The fact is that the Saudis remain in a strong position because oil is cheap to produce there, and the country has such vast reserves. It can withstand a year — or three — of low oil prices.
In Moscow, Vladimir Putin does not have that luxury — and the Saudis know it.
They revile Russia, too, for its military support of President Assad, and for its sale of advanced weapons to Iran.
So there’s the piece on why Russian and Iran are targeted. Anyway, unless you’re a CIA analyst specializing that area with access to all the back and forth, it’s hardly possible to untangle all these wicked webs. It is evident, however, that the Saudis have some bones to pick with a lot of folks and picking away they are.
It will be interesting to watch this unfold. I have no doubt this will have bigger implications and I also know that most folks aren’t following this. I’m also pretty sure the usual news outlets are giving this short shrift. You can tell if you if follow any of my links because only one goes to the NY Times. The rest are mags that are read by very few folks.
So …. What’s on your reading and blogging list today?
Here are are on the 13th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks and the never-ending war in the Middle East continues onward. Last night President Obama promised not to send ground troops back to Iraq or into Syria, but it’s very difficult to trust that promise, even though I do think Obama is sincere in his wish to keep the battle against the Islamic State extremists circumscribed.
Reactions to Obama’s speech
From The Washington Post, Countering Islamic State will be hard in Iraq and harder in Syria, officials say.
President Obama’s strategy to beat back Islamic State militants spread across Iraq and Syria will depend on far more than U.S. bombs and missiles hitting their intended targets.
In Iraq, dissolved elements of the army will have to regroup and fight with conviction. Political leaders will have to reach compromises on the allocation of power and money in ways that have eluded them for years. Disenfranchised Sunni tribesmen will have to muster the will to join the government’s battle. European and Arab allies will have to hang together, Washington will have to tolerate the resurgence of Iranian-backed Shiite militias it once fought, and U.S. commanders will have to orchestrate an air war without ground-level guidance from American combat forces.
“Harder than anything we’ve tried to do thus far in Iraq or Afghanistan” is how one U.S. general involved in war planning described the challenges ahead on one side of the border that splits the so-called Islamic State.
But defeating the group in neighboring Syria will be even more difficult, according to U.S. military and diplomatic officials. The strategy imagines weakening the Islamic State without indirectly strengthening the ruthless government led by Bashar al-Assad or a rival network of al-Qaeda affiliated rebels — while simultaneously trying to build up a moderate Syrian opposition.
All that “makes Iraq seem easy,” the general said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to share views on policy. “This is the most complex problem we’ve faced since 9/11. We don’t have a precedent for this.”
The Wall Street Journal, Obama Pushes U.S. Deeper Into Middle East to Fight Islamic State.
In asking Americans to support another military incursion in the Middle East, Mr. Obama said his strategy to combat Islamic State, also called ISIS and ISIL, would be bolstered by a coalition of Arab and European nations. His plan builds on his authorization in August of airstrikes in Iraq to protect American personnel threatened by Islamic State and to provide humanitarian assistance to besieged Iraqis.
Mr. Obama said the U.S. goal now is to help Iraqis reclaim large swaths of territory the group has rapidly overtaken in recent months since spilling over from its stronghold in neighboring Syria. His speech paves the way for the first U.S. strikes at the group’s bases and havens in Syria.
“America will lead a broad coalition to roll back this terrorist threat,” Mr. Obama said in remarks from the White House. “I will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria, as well as Iraq. This is a core principle of my presidency: If you threaten America, you will find no safe haven.”
The president gave no timetable for the new, U.S.-led fight against what he described as “a terrorist organization” with members “unique in their brutality.”
In addition to launching airstrikes against the militants in Syria, Mr. Obama pledged a new dose of support for moderate Syrian fighters also battling the extremist group. Taken together, the steps draw the U.S. closer toward the volatile Syrian civil war and open a new front for American efforts in the region.
Saudi Arabia has offered to host a U.S.-run training facility for moderate Syrian rebels, U.S. and Arab officials said. The facility is expected to be able to handle as many as 10,000 fighters, but details are still being worked out, the officials said.
According to the article, John McCain and Lindsey Graham are on board with the plan. That gives me the creeps, frankly.
Geoff Dyer at The Financial Times, Obama’s bold ambition at odds with strategic caution.
Faced with the rapid advances of Isis in both Iraq and Syria, the approach described by Mr Obama attempts to meet the political realities that the president faces, both in the Middle East and at home.
In spite of the technological superiority of US forces, Mr Obama believes a durable military victory against Isis can only be achieved by soldiers from the region, especially Sunni forces from the areas to which Isis is laying claim. Otherwise a similar group could reappear once the US has left.
At the same time, it gives him some political protection at home. Recent polls have shown that Americans are alarmed about Isis after the filmed beheadings of two US citizens, but that does not mean they will support another long ground war that leads to hundreds more US casualties.
Yet the problem with Mr Obama’s latest strategy is that it risks being a series of half-measures that establish incredibly ambitious goals while lacking the means to achieve them.
It’s an interesting article. It spells out my fear that this campaign against ISIL is going to expand more and more–just like Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq.
A couple more interesting stories to check out:
Ian Black at The Guardian, Obama puts Isis firmly in US sights but peace in Syria looks harder than before.
Violence Against Women News
I haven’t followed the trial of Oscar Pistorius in South Africa, but from what I know about the killing of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, I was surprised to see the headlines this morning saying that he has been found not guilty of murder. Here’s the latest from The Washington Post, Judge: Oscar Pistorius not guilty of premeditated murder, but ‘it is clear his conduct was negligent’.
The prosecution has not proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Oscar Pistorius committed premeditated murder, Judge Thokozile Masipa said this morning. However, the judge added that it “is clear that his conduct was negligent.”
Pistorius’s negligence pertains to a lesser charge the athlete faces, “culpable homicide,” or manslaughter. The judge applied “the test of a reasonable man” to this charge.
In other words, the judge examined whether it was reasonable for Pistorius to fire four shots through his bathroom door at what he believed was an intruder. In her judgement, Pistorius did not pass this test.
“All the accused had to do was pick up phone and ring security,” Masipa said of Pistorius’s reaction. She added that Pistorius could have also “run to balcony and call for help.” Masipa added that she was “not persuaded that a reasonable person with the accused disabilities,” she said, “would have fired four shots” into the home’s bathroom.
She said that while she thought Pistorius was an “evasive” witness, that does not make him guilty. She said the prosecution has not demonstrated that he “reasonably could have foreseen” that his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, was behind the bathroom door into which he fired four shots, killing her.
On the Ray Rice story, yesterday the AP reported that law enforcement sources in NJ told them that the NFL had received a copy of the tape of Rice knocking out Janay Palmer in an Atlantic City casino elevator in February. Following that unsurprising revelation, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell went deeper into damage control mode, asking former FBI director Robert Mueller to head an independent investigation into the NFL’s handling of the case. The Washington Post reports, AP story prompts NFL to investigate its handling of the Ray Rice case.
The NFL appointed an independent investigator to look into its handling of the Ray Rice case Wednesday night, hours after a new report contradicted the league’s insistence no one in the league office saw video until Monday that depicted Rice striking his then-fiancee in an Atlantic City hotel.
That report by the Associated Press came as several people familiar with the inner workings of the league said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has no plans to heed the calls for him to resign over his handling of the case.
The league announced Wednesday night that Robert S. Mueller III, former director of the FBI, will “conduct an independent investigation into the NFL’s pursuit and handling of evidence in the Ray Rice domestic violence incident.”
Owners John Mara of the New York Giants and Art Rooney II of the Pittsburgh Steelers are to oversee the investigation, according to the league.
The final report resulting from the investigation will be released to the public, the NFL said.
I found a couple more disturbing reports about what actually happened at the casino that night in February. Security officers from the casino said that Rice spat in Palmer’s face twice and claimed that she was unconscious from drinking too much.
ESPN reports, Sources: Ray Rice spat at fiancee.
Three current or former security staffers, who spoke with “Outside the Lines” this week on the condition of anonymity, described additional details of the ugly scene captured on video. Two of the men were on duty the night of the assault, while a third had full access to the security video, which he said he has watched dozens of times. TMZSports.com released a video this week that showed Rice punching Palmer in the face, appearing to knock her unconscious. Revel security workers watched the incident from the operations room through a security camera of the elevator.
One former staffer said Rice, the former Baltimore Ravens running back, spat in his then-fiancée’s face twice, “once outside the elevator and once inside,” prompting her to retaliate with movements that were ultimately countered with a knockout punch. According to the men, as Rice punched Palmer, the elevator the couple rode was rapidly approaching the hotel lobby just two floors above the casino floor. A security staffer, dispatched from his lobby post, saw Rice starting to drag his fiancée, who appeared to still be unconscious, out of the elevator.
“Get him away from her! Get him away from her!” the first responder was told by another security officer over a radio, one former security staffer told “Outside the Lines.” The staffer had full access to the security footage.
The security staffers said they did not see any sign of injury on Palmer’s face or head but added that her hair was covering much of her face, making it hard to determine her condition. They also said they didn’t see any blood in the elevator or on the hip-level railing that Palmer’s head appeared to strike as she fell to the elevator floor.
“The first thing he [Rice] said is, ‘She’s intoxicated. She drank too much. I’m just trying to get her to the room,'” one staffer said.
“When she regained consciousness she said, ‘How could you do this to me? I’m the mother of your kid,'” that same staffer told “Outside the Lines.”
There’s much more at the link, and it only makes the entire sorry episode and the NFL’s failure to deal adequately with it more sickening.
A few more links:
NBC Sports, Did Ray Rice Lie to Roger Goodell?
Other News, Links Only
The Washington Post, Richard Kiel, who played lovable giant ‘Jaws’ in ‘James Bond’ films, is dead at 74.
Wall Street Journal, EU agrees to implement more sanctions against Russia Friday.
Time Magazine, Ozone layer shows signs of recovery, study finds.
That’s all I’ve got. What stories are you following today? Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread, and have terrific Thursday.
Things are heating up all over, in a literal, political and actual sense.
Meanwhile I feel as if I am stuck inside a glass tube of Vaseline…where I cannot move or see and I feel trapped in a situation were everything is close around me. Yesterday, my mom found out she needs to take insulin shots…she is now diabetic. But the Medicare does not cover her prescription for the shots. It is 300 bucks a month. WTF? I don’t understand this crap at all.
There’s ther stuff going on that I can’t get into now, so just letting you know that things are real shitty here, and I may need to take a break for a few days to get my bearings.
Now for today’s links…
I don’t know what to make of this headline from the New York Times:
President Obama is considering a targeted, highly selective campaign of airstrikes against Sunni militants in Iraq similar to counterterrorism operations in Yemen rather than an aerial bombardment, a senior administration official said on Tuesday.
Such a campaign, using either drones or fighter jets, could last for a prolonged period, the official said. But it is not likely to begin for days, until the United States gathers adequate intelligence about the location of the militants, who are intermingled with the civilian population in Mosul, Tikrit and other cities north of Baghdad.
Even the most ambitious aerial campaign envisioned by administration officials would be far more limited in scope than the one conducted during the Iraq war, this official said, because of the relatively small number of militants involved, the degree to which they are dispersed throughout militant-controlled parts of Iraq and fears that using bigger bombs would kill Sunni civilians.
It all makes my head hurt.
But what deserves a laugh is the latest from Glenn Beckistan: Glenn Beck: ‘Liberals, You Were Right,’ We Should Never Have Gone into Iraq | Mediaite
Glenn Beck led off his radio show on Tuesday morning with a stirring monologue about all the ways he believes the left and right can come together to “heal” America. As part of that, Beck suggested that perhaps all Americans can come together to recognize the blunder that was invading and occupying Iraq in 2003 — an act that he now regrets having supported.
After listing the Veterans Affairs Department scandal and the fight against Common Core standards as two ways in which the left and right can unite, Beck asserted that “maybe we could come together now on this nightmare in Iraq.”
He then took a contrite tone and admitted [emphasis ours]:
From the beginning, most people on the left were against going into Iraq. I wasn’t. At the time I believed that the United States was under threat from Saddam Hussein. I really truly believed that Saddam Hussein was funding terrorists. We knew that. He was funding the terrorists in Hamas. We knew that he was giving money. We could track that. We knew he hated us. We knew that without a shadow of a doubt. It wasn’t much or a stretch to believe that he would fund a terror strike against us, especially since he would say that. So I took him at his word.
[…] Now, in spite of the things I felt at the time when we went into war, liberals said: We shouldn’t get involved. We shouldn’t nation-build. And there was no indication the people of Iraq had the will to be free. I thought that was insulting at the time. Everybody wants to be free. They said we couldn’t force freedom on people. Let me lead with my mistakes. You are right. Liberals, you were right. We shouldn’t have.
Well, blow me down!
Here’s another shocking bit of right-wing reactions to scratch your head about…first the news bit: U.S. captures suspected ringleader of 2012 attack in Benghazi | Reuters
The United States said on Tuesday it had captured a suspected ringleader of the 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans including the U.S. ambassador and ignited a political firestorm in Washington.
President Barack Obama said in a statement he had authorized the operation in Libya on Sunday, in which U.S. special operations forces captured Ahmed Abu Khatallah. He told an audience later in Pittsburgh that Khatallah was being transported to the United States.
“Since the deadly attacks on our facilities in Benghazi, I have made it a priority to find and bring to justice those responsible for the deaths of four brave Americans,” he said in a statement. He said Khatallah would “face the full weight of the American justice system.”
Khatallah’s capture was a victory for Obama, who has been accused by Republicans of playing down the role of al Qaeda in the 2012 attacks for political reasons and being slow to deliver on promises of justice.
Which is all well and good, but as Maddow made clear on her show last night: U.S. Got the Suspect and ‘Benghazi Central’ Fox News Doesn’t Care? | Mediaite
For the past 21 months in a row, conservative media outlets have kept hammering away at Benghazi, saying the Obama White House covered something up, accusing the president of dredging up other issues to distract from Benghazi, and crying foul that no one has been brought to justice for the attack. Well, today one of the alleged perpetrators of the attack was captured by U.S. special forces, and so Rachel Maddow was absolutely bewildered to see the reaction on conservative media from Drudge Report to “Benghazi Central” Fox News, ranging from either ignoring the big news or furiously spinning it as a negative for the administration.
Maddow reminded viewers that the “all-Benghazi, all-the-time Fox News Channel” is the network that basically started ignoring President Obama‘s speeches and press conferences unless he starts talking about Benghazi. And the reaction on Fox News today to the news was to question the suspicious timing of the capture.
Maddow was amused that “the take on Fox News is that’s not actually news” after all the time and space they’ve devoted to hammering away at Benghazi, and now “they have to make it bad news, they have to make into maybe a scandal itself.”
Damn Fox News.
One more Foxy link for you, only this time it deals with Hillary Clinton: Hillary Clinton on FOX News with Greta Van Susteren and Brett Baier | Still4Hill
Hillary walked right into the mouth of the dragon and shot her fire extinguisher all over the flames.
In fact I did not expect Greta to be hard on her, and she was not except that once the record got a little stuck on a Fourth Amendment question. Later, Greta admitted that despite all prior interviews with Hillary she did feel stressed and later wished she had had more time. For my money they could have given Greta Brett’s time.
In response to something from Brett, she suggested that people read the unclassified ARB Report.
Another Hillary link: Hillary Clinton notes distance from Obama on Syria rebels | Reuters
Potential Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton pointed out her differences with President Barack Obama on Tuesday over his decision not to arm moderate Syrian rebels, as neighboring Iraq struggles to cope with extremist spillover from Syria.
“We pushed very hard. But as I say in my book, I believe that Harry Truman was right, the buck stops with the president,”
Clinton said in a CNN interview.
The former secretary of state said she, along with the then heads of the Pentagon and CIA tried but failed to persuade Obama to arm the rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, but that the White House resisted.
Clinton said it was not clear whether arming moderates in Syria would have prevented the rise of the al Qaeda splinter group, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which has swept toward Baghdad aiming to build a Muslim caliphate across the Iraqi-Syrian border.
“It’s very difficult, in retrospect, to say that would have prevented this,” she said. She said it is too soon to tell whether American policy in Syria was a failure.
The countdown is began and ended here in Georgia as the BBC is picking up on the story: Georgia in first US execution since botched attempt
The US state of Georgia is set to execute the first person in the US since a botched lethal injection in Texas in April.
Marcus Wellons, who raped and killed a 15-year-old in 1989, is scheduled to be executed on Tuesday evening.
A last-minute appeal over the source of the drugs is with the US Supreme Court.
Wellons is one of three set to die in the next 24 hours, after nine executions were stayed since one in Oklahoma went wrong seven weeks ago.
Officials in Oklahoma halted the execution of Clayton Lockett after he began making noises, and he died of a heart attack less than an hour later.
Like Oklahoma, Georgia refuses to say where they are obtaining drugs for lethal injections, or if they are tested.
Lawyers for Wellons, as well as others on death row, have challenged such secrecy in court.
Well, the execution went on as expected: UPDATE: Marcus Wellons has been executed | www.ajc.com
Since I am writing this post only a few minutes after his death has been confirmed I will update this story in the comments below.
One thing all these stories have threaded together is a subject of hard news…Why Audiences Hate Hard News—And Love Pretending Otherwise – Derek Thompson – The Atlantic
You may not realize this, but we can see you. Yes, you. The human reading this article. We have analytics that tells us roughly where you are, what site you’ve just arrived from, how long you stay, how far you read, where you hop to next. We’ve got eyeballs on your eyeballs.
Why is it so important that digital news organizations track which articles you’re reading on our websites? The obvious answer is that it teaches us what you’re interested in. The less-obvious, but equally true, answer is that it teaches you what you’re interested in.
If we merely asked what you wanted, without measuring what you wanted, you’d just keep lying to us—and to yourself.
Here’s what I mean by lying. This year, the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism asked thousands of people around the world what sort of news was most important to them. The graph below shows the responses from Americans. International news crushed celebrity and “fun” news by a margin of two-to-one. Economic and political news finished even higher.
It is an interesting thing…as far as what is most important compared to what the people actually read.
Ask audiences what they want, and they’ll tell you vegetables. Watch them quietly, and they’ll mostly eat candy.
Audiences are liars, and the media organizations who listen to them without measuring them are dupes. At the Aspen Ideas Festival last year, Ehab Al Shihabi, executive director of international operations for Al Jazeera America, shared survey data suggesting that 40 to 50 million people were desperate for in-depth and original TV journalism. Nine months later, it averaged 10,000 viewers per hour—1.08 percent of Fox News’ audience and 3.7 percent of CNN. AJAM, built for an audience of vegetarians, is stuck with a broccoli stand in a candy shop.
The culprit isn’t Millennials, or Facebook, or analytics software like Chartbeat. The problem is our brains. The more attention-starved we feel, the more we thirst for stimuli that are familiar. We like ice cream when we’re sad, old songs when we’re tired, and easy listicles when we’re busy and ego-depleted. The Internet shorthand for this fact is “cat pictures.” Psychologists prefer the term fluency. Fluency isn’t how we think: It’s how we feel while we’re thinking. We prefer thoughts that come easily: Faces that are symmetrical, colors that are clear, and sentences with parallelisms. In this light, there are two problems with hard news: It’s hard and it’s new. (Parallelism!)
Since we are talking about people who lie about reading news stories, what about something dealing with handwriting. What’s Lost as Handwriting Fades – NYTimes.com
Does handwriting matter?
Not very much, according to many educators. The Common Core standards, which have been adopted in most states, call for teaching legible writing, but only in kindergarten and first grade. After that, the emphasis quickly shifts to proficiency on the keyboard.
But psychologists and neuroscientists say it is far too soon to declare handwriting a relic of the past. New evidence suggests that the links between handwriting and broader educational development run deep.
Children not only learn to read more quickly when they first learn to write by hand, but they also remain better able to generate ideas and retain information. In other words, it’s not just what we write that matters — but how.
“When we write, a unique neural circuit is automatically activated,” said Stanislas Dehaene, a psychologist at the Collège de France in Paris. “There is a core recognition of the gesture in the written word, a sort of recognition by mental simulation in your brain.
Could there be a connection be handwriting, news reading habits and education development?
A 2012 study led by Karin James, a psychologist at Indiana University, lent support to that view. Children who had not yet learned to read and write were presented with a letter or a shape on an index card and asked to reproduce it in one of three ways: trace the image on a page with a dotted outline, draw it on a blank white sheet, or type it on a computer. They were then placed in a brain scanner and shown the image again.
The researchers found that the initial duplication process mattered a great deal. When children had drawn a letter freehand, they exhibited increased activity in three areas of the brain that are activated in adults when they read and write: the left fusiform gyrus, the inferior frontal gyrus and the posterior parietal cortex.
By contrast, children who typed or traced the letter or shape showed no such effect. The activation was significantly weaker.
Dr. James attributes the differences to the messiness inherent in free-form handwriting: Not only must we first plan and execute the action in a way that is not required when we have a traceable outline, but we are also likely to produce a result that is highly variable.
That variability may itself be a learning tool. “When a kid produces a messy letter,” Dr. James said, “that might help him learn it.”
Finally, the last “news read” I have for you today could fall in the “fun” category. Stamp sells for record $9.5 million in New York
An incredibly rare 19th century postage stamp, a tiny one-cent magenta from British colonial Guyana, sold for $9.5 million in New York on Tuesday, setting a new world record.
Bidding began at $4.5 million and it took just two minutes to sell the stamp to an anonymous bidder on the phone, although the auction house Sotheby’s had valued the tiny specimen of British colonial memorabilia at $10-20 million.
“With the premium the stamp has just sold for approximately $9.5 million, which means it has set a new world record price for a stamp,” David Redden, Sotheby’s director of special projects, told a packed room in New York.
Can you believe it? 9.5 million dollars? Wow…
So what “candy” are you reading about today?
Although I know most of you here read “vegetables” all day long.