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.
Happy Independence Day Team USA!
Here’s how the Kennedy family is spending their 4th of July! “Kennedy family BASHES Trump over Fourth of July weekend with a pinata of The Donald at their Cape Cod compound.” That sounds like some nice harmless fun and very politically incorrect. The Trumpster should approve but I doubt his thick skull or thin skin will be able to take it in that spirit.
The Kennedy clan gathered at their Hyannis Port compound on Cape Cod over the weekend for their annual Fourth of July festivities, and took some time to attack Donald Trump.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s daughter Kathleen, between known as Kick, posted a photos of a pinata of The Donald from a family party over the weekend.
‘It’s yuge party!,’ wrote Kick in the caption of the Instagram post, which also showed some of her family members milling about in the background.
She later deleted the Instagram post just before 11am on Monday.
Yes, some of us are still rocking in the free world while we can!
There’s a lot of sadness today as we stop to think about Baghdad, Istanbul, and Dhaka where ISIS attacks have killed hundreds of innocent people who were simply going about their day. Our hearts go out to the places that have suffered these massive tragedies. I’m also reminded today of Colin Powell’s Pottery Barn Rule.
Powell: What I was saying is, if you get yourself involved—if you break a government, if you cause it to come down, by invading or other means, remember that you are now the government. You have a responsibility to take care of the people of that country.
Isaacson: And it got labeled the Pottery Barn rule.
I, for one, care about these attacks. I’ve not seen the graphics, the heartfelt “I’m with …” sloganeering, and the banal, jingoistic calls exclaiming that “it’s a war on the Western World.” That’s because it isn’t a war on the Western World. It’s a war on modernity.
This is a fight we brought to the front door step of many countries–including Iraq–that were not to blame for anything when we invaded Iraq.
Since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, and the bungled occupation that followed, Baghdad has been the site of numerous rounds of sectarian bloodletting, al-Qaeda attacks and now the ravages of the Islamic State. Despite suffering significant defeats at the hands of the Iraqi army, including the loss of the city of Fallujah, the militant group has shown its willingness and capacity to brutalize the country’s population.
Public anger in the Iraqi capital, as my colleague Loveday Morris reports, is not being directed at foreign conspirators or even — first and foremost — at the militants, but at a much-maligned government that is failing to keep the country safe.
“The street was full of life last night,” one Karrada resident told The Washington Post, “and now the smell of death is all over the place.”
Iraq is being invaded once more and Baghdad is still a shadow of itself in a country with little ability to truly defend its borders and people.
By Monday afternoon the toll in Karrada stood at 151 killed and 200 wounded, according to police and medical sources. Rescuers and families were still looking for 35 missing people.
Islamic State claimed the bombing, its deadliest in Iraq, saying it was a suicide attack. Another explosion struck in the same night, when a roadside bomb blew up in popular market of al-Shaab, a Shi’ite district in north Baghdad, killing two people.
The attacks showed Islamic State can still strike in the heart of the Iraqi capital despite recent military losses, undermining Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s declaration of victory last month when Iraqi forces dislodged the hardline Sunni insurgents from the nearby city of Falluja.
Abadi’s Shi’ite-led government ordered the offensive on Falluja in May after a series of deadly bombings in Shi’ite areas of Baghdad that it said originated from the Sunni Muslim city, about 50 km (30 miles) west of the capital.
Falluja was the first Iraqi city captured by Islamic State in 2014, six months before it declared a caliphate over parts of Iraq and Syria. Since last year the insurgents have been losing ground to U.S.-backed Iraqi government forces and Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias.
“Abadi has to have a meeting with the heads of national security, intelligence, the interior ministry and all sides responsible for security and ask them just one question: How can we infiltrate these groups?” said Abdul Kareem Khalaf, a former police Major General who advises the Netherlands-based European Centre for Counterterrorism and Intelligence Studies think tank.
He said Islamic State, or Daesh, “has supporters or members everywhere – in Baghdad, Basra and Kurdistan. All it takes is for one house to have at least one man and you have a planning base and launch site for attacks of this type.”
In a sign of public outrage at the failure of the security services, Abadi was given an angry reception on Sunday when he toured Karrada, the district where he grew up, with residents throwing stones, empty buckets and even slippers at his convoy in gestures of contempt.
He ordered new measures to protect Baghdad, starting with the withdrawal of fake bomb detectors that police have continued to use despite a scandal that broke out in 2011 about their sale to Iraq under his predecessor, Nuri al-Maliki.
So, today our skies will light up with fireworks that we will purposefully set off to celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence and moving forward with liberating our nation from British rule. It’s odd to think that the fall out from colonialism is still going on today and that the fireworks that light up many other places do not represent the symbolic act of a war of Independence but one of oppression and terror.
I’m not sure how many of you will stop by on this holiday to say hi so I’m going to just make this a brief greeting with the one bit of news. However this is, as always, an open thread and there are other things going on including the election of the next President of the US.
This is another thing that should give us pause as we continue to clean up the mess of the Bush Administration, and actually the mess left behind by others of his predecessors like Ronald Reagan whose adventures in South and Central American made every one in those countries a lot less safe.
If we’re unable to purse our own liberty and happiness then we can change that under our system of government. But then, think again what it means when our actions prevent that dream for others. My heart weeps for all of those who live in countries that we helped break. We own it. I think Hillary Clinton understands this. I think Donald Trump would rather we walk away from our mess. We broke it. We own it. Let’s just hope the rest of the coalition of the willing hangs in there with us as we try to stop the carnage.
Have a great 4th!!! May the fireworks near you be only the celebratory type and not the bullets from another crazed shooter or the ignition of a suicide vest! May all beings be free from harm!!!
What’s on your reading and blogging list today?
Hello and good afternoon.
This post will be a combination of cartoons and links. On Friday night my mom and I had a bout of food poisoning…and I was in no condition for putting up a cartoon thread that evening.
So sit back and take it in, here are your Sunday Links:
It sounds like a Hollywood movie:
Actor and activist Sean Penn turned gonzo journalist and got an interview with the world’s most wanted man, Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, just after the Mexican drug baron escaped from a maximum-security prison, it has emerged.
At his hideouts in the impenetrable hills of western Mexico, Guzmán told the Hollywood star about his drugs business, rags-to-riches life story and how he hired European engineers to help him to slip out of the prison.
Mexican authorities claim they monitored Penn’s movements after they found out about his meeting with Guzmán in October and that helped lead them to a ranch where El Chapo was staying.
Guzmán, fresh from his escape through anexpertly engineered tunnel, told Penn in a seven-hour visit and follow-up video for an article published in Rolling Stone: “I supply more heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana than anybody else in the world … I have a fleet of submarines, airplanes, trucks and boats.”
There is plenty of articles on this story…
The main thrust of the juicy tidbits comes from Rolling Stone, which broke the video interviews of Penn and El Chapo:
(By line is Sean Penn btw…)
Disclosure: Some names have had to be changed, locations not named, and an understanding was brokered with the subject that this piece would be submitted for the subject’s approval before publication. The subject did not ask for any changes.
“The laws of conscience, which we pretend to be derived from nature, proceed from custom.” —Montaigne
It’s September 28th, 2015. My head is swimming, labeling TracPhones (burners), one per contact, one per day, destroy, burn, buy, balancing levels of encryption, mirroring through Blackphones, anonymous e-mail addresses, unsent messages accessed in draft form. It’s a clandestine horror show for the single most technologically illiterate man left standing. At 55 years old, I’ve never learned to use a laptop. Do they still make laptops? No fucking idea! It’s 4:00 in the afternoon. Another gorgeous fall day in New York City. The streets are abuzz with the lights and sirens of diplomatic movement, heads of state, U.N. officials, Secret Service details, the NYPD. It’s the week of the U.N. General Assembly. Pope Francis blazed a trail and left town two days before. I’m sitting in my room at the St. Regis Hotel with my colleague and brother in arms, Espinoza.
It already reads like a pitch for a film…but please continue…
Espinoza and I have traveled many roads together, but none as unpredictable as the one we are now approaching. Espinoza is the owl who flies among falcons. Whether he’s standing in the midst of a slum, a jungle or a battlefield, his idiosyncratic elegance, mischievous smile and self-effacing charm have a way of defusing threat. His bald head demands your attention to his twinkling eyes. He’s a man fascinated and engaged. We whisper to each other in code. Finally a respite from the cyber technology that’s been sizzling my brain and soul. We sit within quietude of fortified walls that are old New York hotel construction, when walls were walls, and telephones were usable without a Ph.D. We quietly make our plans, sensitive to the paradox that also in our hotel is President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico. Espinoza and I leave the room to get outside the hotel, breathe in the fall air and walk the five blocks to a Japanese restaurant, where we’ll meet up with our colleague El Alto Garcia. As we exit onto 55th Street, the sidewalk is lined with the armored SUVs that will transport the president of Mexico to the General Assembly. Paradoxical indeed, as one among his detail asks if I will take a selfie with him. Flash frame: myself and a six-foot, ear-pieced Mexican security operator.
Flash frame: Why is this a paradox? It’s paradoxical because today’s
Oh yeah…voice over commanding language like, “the owl who flies with falcons” and don’t forget the flash frame shot directions…definitely screenplay material.
Video tease here:
Sean Penn, who tracked down the fugitive kingpin, sent questions; Chapo videotaped his responses in his first-ever interview.
Okay, seriously though…the other links are interesting, I just can’t help laughing like hell at the Penn article.
(A note here, these articles are older, from 2011 and mid 2015)
Mexican drug kingpin once came so close to being caught that his coffee was reportedly still warm when authorities arrived
Mexican drug lords have transformed the narcotics trade in America — and the DEA appears powerless to stop them
White House chief of staff Denis McDonough told CNN: “One thing I will tell you is that this braggadocious action about how much heroin he sends around the world, including the United States, is maddening.
“We see a heroin epidemic, an opioid addiction epidemic, in this country… But El Chapo’s behind bars – that’s where he should stay.”
The Mexican authorities are reported to be considering whether to investigate Penn and a Mexican actress, Kate del Castillo, who apparently arranged the interview.
Mr McDonough declined to answer a question about whether the US would hand Penn over to Mexico for questioning.
“Well, it poses a lot of very interesting questions both for him and for others involved in this-so-called interview, so we’ll see what happens on that – I’m not going to get ahead of it,” he said.
Mr Rubio told ABC: “If one of these American actors who have benefited from the greatness of this country, who have made money from our free enterprise system, want to go fawn all over a criminal and a drug trafficker in their interviews, they have a constitutional right to do it. I find it grotesque.”
This may be the best way to review the Sean Penn article:
“A secret visit with the most wanted man in the world” reads like an Elmore Leonard novel come to life
Saturday night, Rolling Stone published a story written by actor Sean Penn about his efforts to interview notorious Mexican drug lord Joaquín Archivaldo Guzmán Loera — known as El Chapo — that apparently contributed to El Chapo’s arrest last week, following his tunneling-out escape from Altiplano prison last summer. It’s a wild tale of Hollywood connections, jungle hide-outs, military shoot-outs and BlackBerry messaging.
“Sean Penn interview led authorities to El Chapo” might already be the strangest headline of 2016 — but the story gets even stranger from there. This entire caper reads like a chapter from a lost Elmore Leonard novel.
Go check that out…
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has urged Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump to apologise to a Muslim protester ejected from one of his rallies.
CAIR said Rose Hamid’s eviction from the rally in South Carolina sent a “chilling message to American Muslims”.
Ms Hamid was removed after making a silent protest on Friday.
Mr Trump’s proposed ban on Muslims entering the US has been widely condemned.
During the rally in the town of Rock Hill, Ms Hamid stood up wearing a T-shirt bearing the words: “Salam, I come in peace” – “Salam” is the Arabic word for peace.
When she stood up, the crowd around her began chanting “Trump! Trump!” as they had reportedly been instructed to do in the event of any interruption, reports the BBC’s Anthony Zurcher from Rock Hill.
Ms Hamid, a 56-year-old flight attendant, was then told by a security officer that she had to leave. She was booed as she was escorted out.
CAIR said that as well as apologising to Ms Hamid, Mr Trump should “make a clear statement that American Muslims are welcome as fellow citizens and as participants in the nation’s political process”.
No response from Trump.
The latest shit out of the mouth of a fuckwad: via cnsnews . com… Rep. Chris Smith: ‘Planned Parenthood Dismembers or Chemically Poisons a Baby to Death Every 2 Minutes’
Rep. Chris Smith, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Global Human Rights, said on the House floor on Wednesday that Planned Parenthood is “Child Abuse, Incorporated,” and that the group “dismembers or chemically poisons a baby to death every 2 minutes.”
What an embarrassment, he chairs the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Global Human Rights?
The crap spewed. That is a right-wing link so you can look up the title at the site if you must.
This is the actual quote:
Here is the transcript of Rep. Smith’s floor speech:
“Subsidized by over $500 million taxpayer dollars each year, Planned Parenthood dismembers or chemically poisons a baby to death every 2 minutes, killing over 7 million innocent children since 1973.
“Planned Parenthood is Child Abuse, Incorporated. Now undercover videos have exposed in numbing candor several high-level Planned Parenthood leaders gleefully talking about procuring children’s internal organs for a price, all while altering gruesome dismemberment procedures to preserve intact livers, hearts, and lungs from freshly killed babies.
“Far too many politicians, Mr. Speaker, including our Nobel Peace Prizewinning president and much of the media, continue to ignore, trivialize, and even defend these gross human rights abuses.
“So know this: We will not be deterred in exposing this Planned Parenthood scandal no matter how aggressive and misleading the cover-up.
“End taxpayer funding to those who commit these cruel and inhumane acts in this subsidy for Planned Parenthood.
What about the real human rights violations that have gone on in this country, specifically in a town called Flint:
On Jan. 5, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder declared a state of emergency in Flint and Genesee County, where lead in the area’s drinking water has been showing up at toxic levels in the bloodstreams of children. The water became toxic because of a decision by the government Snyder runs.
In 2014 the city of Flint’s emergency manager, appointed by the state, ordered that the city stop drawing water from Lake Huron and start taking it from the Flint River. However, the river’s corrosive waters stripped lead from the water system’s pipes, contaminating the drinking water. Though the city has switched back to drawing water from Lake Huron, the local water still contains dangerous levels of lead, and local officials are handing out water filters as they try to come up with a solution.
This emergency goes beyond simply a public health problem. (Lead is a potent neurotoxin, which can cause irreversible brain damage in children.) It is something much worse: a human rights abuse in an American city. In 2010, the United Nations declared that “ … clean drinking water … [is] essential to the realization of all human rights.” Flint’s contaminated water will prevent children from realizing their human right to health, enumerated in Article 25 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Had these basic human rights factored into the decision to switch Flint’s water source from Lake Huron to the Flint River, Flint’s children might never have been exposed to tainted water. What’s worse, new reports say Snyder’s office found out about the contaminated water and did nothing. For as little as $100 per day the state of Michigan could have treated the water and prevented the life-long suffering that the children of Flint are now going to experience, but instead it prioritized fiscal savings over the health and human rights of children.
Once again, Rep Smith illustrates the perfect example of PLUB….Pro-Life-Until-Birth mentally. GOP pro-life basturds only care for the precious “life” before it pops out of the mother. After that point when it is an actual living person, they don’t give a flying fuck.
At least it is starting to get more press…
Did y’all see this?
It really is becoming a world like Idiocracy.
On the other side of the globe, a show of old cold war tactics has been making headlines overnight.
In Middle Eastern news:
And in Spain:
This is a big story, Over 200 Members of German Choir Were Abused, Investigator Says – The New York Times
At least 231 children who sang in a boys’ choir led for 30 years by the brother of former Pope Benedict XVIwere abused over a period of almost four decades, a lawyer investigating reports of wrongdoing said Friday.
The lawyer, Ulrich Weber, who was commissioned by the choir to look into accusations of beatings, torture or sexual abuse, said he thought that the actual abuse was even more widespread.
At a news conference in Regensburg, Bavaria, where the choir traces its roots to the year 975, Mr. Weber estimated that from 1953 to 1992, every third member of the choir and an attached school suffered some kind of physical abuse.
He attributed the beatings and other mistreatment mostly to Johann Meier, director of a lower school attached to the choir from 1953 until his retirement in 1992. Mr. Meier died suddenly later that year, Mr. Weber said. A 1987 investigation of reported abuse did not prompt the choir’s leaders to remove Mr. Meier or take other action, the lawyer said.
Asked whether Benedict’s brother, the Rev. Georg Ratzinger, who conducted the Regensburg choir from 1964 to 1994, had known of the abuse, Mr. Weber said, “After my research, I must assume so.”
For a few updates on the militia nuts:
Republicans have widely condemned the efforts by a group of armed ranchers to reclaim federal land in eastern Oregon, but the ranchers’ goal of taking back some of Washington’s vast holdings in the West has gained traction in the GOP.
The decades-old idea could garner even more momentum should the party recapture theWhite House this year.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz has proposed preventing the federal government from owning more than 50 percent of the land in any state, which would require changes, for example, in Alaska, Nevada and other western states.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio has backed legislation to give states the ability to develop energy resources on federal land and told the Des Moines Register editorial board that “the federal government owns far too much land” in the West.
Both senators backed an amendment offered by Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski last year that would make it easier for federal land to be returned to state control.
Jon Ritzheimer, infamous right-wing terrorist and incredible douchebag, barely squeaks by on his government disability check and has said that he is “thankful to have a wife who works.” As it turns out, experts tell us that this guy who spends his days fighting imaginary battles and sucking up a good man’s oxygen isn’t the exception to the demographics that make up a right-wing terrorist militia, he’s the definition.
“These guys are broke,” said Mark Pitcavage, who has been researching far-right movements for 22 years and has studied the Harney County occupiers. “Right-wing extremists, generally speaking, have very little money.”
How a right-wing extremist occupation like the one in Oregon would pay for itself isn’t exactly an issue there’s been a lot of data on. By referencing the research of people like Pitcavage, we can deduce that right-wing extremists are for the most part freeloaders, likened to teenagers who think they can take care of themselves but overwhelmed the first time they have to pay a bill or do a load of laundry.
“It’s quite possible that a lot of them will get tired and feel the pressure to go back and care for their families,” Pitcavage explained. Those families, left behind to care for themselves, are probably better off without their “patriarch,” the almighty man who controls everything and can make the decision to just pack up and leave on a whim to occupy a forest a thousand miles away that they’ve never heard of before last week.
Daryl Johnson, a former DHS domestic terrorism analyst, says militia members have a warped sense of priority where their “duty” is concerned. A video released by Ritzheimer showed him crying that he would probably be killed and how much he would miss his family just before he held up a copy of the Constitution and declared “But…I took an oath.”
“They’ll think nothing about taking half their paycheck and using half of it to buy ammunition and guns,” Johnson told The Oregonian.
The gist here is that these idiots aren’t just the worst the American gene pool has to offer, they’re also incredible assholes who are neglecting their families to go play soldier in the Oregon wilderness. They’re holed up in a facility they didn’t pay to be at, squeezing the taxpayer for their utilities and costing tens if not hundreds of thousands more in wages paid to employees who can’t go to work.
The Bundy seditionists’ call for backup has been heeded by one of the more nasty armed insurrection/white supremacist groups out there, Idaho’s “Three Percent” movement.
Members of a group from outside Oregon arrived on Friday at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge to “secure a perimeter” around the compound and prevent “a Waco-style situation.”
The arrival of the “3% of Idaho” was the latest development in the situation outside Burns, where an armed occupation of the refuge by an Ammon Bundy-led militant group entered its seventh day.
“They just keep an eye on everything that is going on” to make sure “nothing stupid happens,” Bundy said Friday afternoon outside refuge headquarters.
“If they weren’t here,” Bundy said, referring to the Idaho group, “I’d worry” about a Waco-style siege by federal officials.
The group’s website says it stands for “freedom, liberty and the Constitution. We will combat all those who are corrupt.” The website displays the motto, “When Tyranny Becomes Law, Rebellion Becomes Duty!”
As Dave Neiwert reminds us, these assholes are pretty deep into Islamophobia and armed insurrection. They marched against settling Syrian refugees in Twin Falls, Idaho in October and again in Boise in November and the real danger is of course these jagoffs are national.
The Idaho group is only the local affiliate of a broader (though hardly numerous) national movement that takes its name from the notion that only 3 percent of the people living in the colonies took part in the American Revolution – thus, the name is intended to invoke the would-be combatants in a “second American Revolution,” as its proponents like to proclaim.
The movement is largely the brainchild of Michael Vanderboegh, the onetime militiaman who in recent years has been specializing in incendiary rhetoric supporting the notion that any attempts at federal gun control will spark a new civil war, or better yet, a new revolution.
As Boston Boomer noted yesterday, these dudes are using the internet and gaining access to federal employee records…when the hell is this going to end. Like the cartoon above, if the men were any color but white, you know it would have been over long ago.
From the freak department:
IDAHO DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND GAME VIA AP
State wildlife biologists have been left puzzled over a mountain lion found with teeth growing out the side of its forehead in southeast Idaho near the Utah border.
CBS affiliate KBOI reports an unidentified hunter caught the yearling cougar last week near Weston. Idaho Fish and Game biologists say they’ve never seen such a “bizarre” abnormality before.
Biologist Zach Lockyer says the teeth were protruding from hard tissue on the left side of the mountain lion’s forehead.
Biologists speculate the animal’s deformity may possibly be the result of either a conjoined twin that died in the womb or a rare tumor. Another possibility is ateratoma tumor, which are tumors that allow teeth, hair, fingers and toes to grow, and are incredibly rare in humans and animals.
Could it be a sign…since those Idaho assholes have joined the Oregon dumbfarts in the “standoff”?
I don’t know. But if there ever was a symbol of a giant fucked up threat against peace…to me it sure would be some freakish deformed mountain lion from Idaho with nasty teeth protruding from the animals forehead.
Bad omen if you ask me.
Since the Thin Man was mentioned last week, I thought might as well give you all a Tired Old Queen video link….enjoy:
And a bonus too:
This is an open thread…
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.