27 March 2015

Why We Need to Clean House at the State Department

If you have to conceal substantive negotiations from your foreign policy bureaucracy, it means that its time to fire a bunch of people in that bureaucracy:
The December breakthrough that upended a half-century of U.S.-Cuba enmity has been portrayed as the fruit of 18 months of secret diplomacy.

But Reuters interviews with more than a dozen people with direct knowledge of the process reveal a longer, painstakingly cautious quest by U.S. President Barack Obama and veteran Cuba specialists to forge the historic rapprochement.

As now-overt U.S.-Cuban negotiations continue this month, Reuters also has uncovered new details of how talks began and how they stalled in late 2013 during secret sessions in Canada. Senior administration officials and others also revealed how both countries sidelined their foreign policy bureaucracies and how Obama sought the Vatican’s blessing to pacify opponents.


………

Obama at first froze out the State Department in part due to concern that "vested interests" there were bent on perpetuating a confrontational approach, said a former senior U.S. official. Secretary of State John Kerry was informed of the talks only after it appeared they might be fruitful, officials said.

Cuban President Raul Castro operated secretly too. Josefina Vidal, head of U.S. affairs at Cuba's foreign ministry, was cut out, two Americans close to the process said. Vidal could not be reached for comment.
Sorry, but if your senior members of a bureaucracy, of any bureaucracy,  have to be kept out of the loop by elected leaders in order to avoid possible sabotage of policy, then it's time for them not to be senior members of that bureaucracy.

Unfortunately the legacy of a competent non-partisan civil service has been undermined by decades of burrowing by Republicans.

Things to do in Elmira When You're Dead

I got up at an ungodly hour this morning to take my daughter Natalie to a college tour of Elmira College.

According to Google Maps, it is 4 hours and 18 minutes to the college, and the tour starts at 10:00am.

You do the math.  (I actually post dated this to post at oh-my-God:30 last night)

Any suggestions as to what we should do to get a sense of the town?

What do people do for fun in Elmira.

26 March 2015

Preach It, Andrew Bacevich!!!!

He observes the absolute uselessness our foreign policy, and juxtaposes the effects of tribalism in the United States, an which might be the best headline in MoJo this year, Ivy League Eggheads Have Led Us Into a String of Disastrous Wars. It's Time For Something New:.
Policy intellectuals—eggheads presuming to instruct the mere mortals who actually run for office—are a blight on the republic. Like some invasive species, they infest present-day Washington, where their presence strangles common sense and has brought to the verge of extinction the simple ability to perceive reality. A benign appearance—well-dressed types testifying before Congress, pontificating in print and on TV, or even filling key positions in the executive branch—belies a malign impact. They are like Asian carp let loose in the Great Lakes.

………

Then came World War II, followed in short order by the onset of the Cold War. These events brought to Washington a second wave of deep thinkers, their agenda now focused on "national security." This eminently elastic concept—more properly, "national insecurity"—encompassed just about anything related to preparing for, fighting, or surviving wars, including economics, technology, weapons design, decision-making, the structure of the armed forces, and other matters said to be of vital importance to the nation's survival. National insecurity became, and remains today, the policy world's equivalent of the gift that just keeps on giving.

People who specialized in thinking about national insecurity came to be known as "defense intellectuals." Pioneers in this endeavor back in the 1950s were as likely to collect their paychecks from think tanks like the prototypical RAND Corporation as from more traditional academic institutions. Their ranks included creepy figures like Herman Kahn, who took pride in "thinking about the unthinkable," and Albert Wohlstetter, who tutored Washington in the complexities of maintaining "the delicate balance of terror."

………

Over the previous century-and-a-half, the United States had gone to war for many reasons, including greed, fear, panic, righteous anger, and legitimate self-defense. On various occasions, each of these, alone or in combination, had prompted Americans to fight. Vietnam marked the first time that the United States went to war, at least in considerable part, in response to a bunch of really dumb ideas floated by ostensibly smart people occupying positions of influence. More surprising still, action intellectuals persisted in waging that war well past the point where it had become self-evident, even to members of Congress, that the cause was a misbegotten one doomed to end in failure.
The modern national insecurity intellectuals subscribe to what Matthew Yglesias derided as, "The Green Lantern Theory of Geopolitics."

Basically, like the DC comic book character, the US can do anything, and the only way that it can fail is through a failure of the will.

It is historically and empirically wrong.

It is also batsh%$ insane, and it is the standard wisdom inside the Beltway.
It's why you frequently hear military leaders repeat the myth that US forces lost no battles in the Vietnam War:  (we lost over 70 battles) The lesson that the military learned was that the press needed to be muzzled so as not to lose popular support.

The fact is that the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong beat us, but the military, in a stunning display of human nature, blames the American public and the press instead.
In his fine new book American Reckoning: The Vietnam War and Our National Identity, Christian Appy, a historian who teaches at the University of Massachusetts, reminds us of just how dumb those ideas were.

………

These questions are by no means of mere historical interest. They are no less relevant when applied to the handiwork of the twenty-first-century version of policy intellectuals, specializing in national insecurity, whose bullsh%$ underpins policies hardly more coherent than those used to justify and prosecute the Vietnam War.

………


At least since September 11, 2001, and arguably for at least two decades prior to that date, US policymakers have taken these propositions for granted. They have done so at least in part because few of the policy intellectuals specializing in national insecurity have bothered to question them.

Indeed, those specialists insulate the state from having to address such questions. Think of them as intellectuals devoted to averting genuine intellectual activity. More or less like Herman Kahn and Albert Wohlstetter (or Dr. Strangelove), their function is to perpetuate the ongoing enterprise.

………

What prompts these observations is Ashton Carter's return to the Pentagon as President Obama's fourth secretary of defense. Carter himself is an action intellectual in the Bundy, Rostow, Huntington mold, having made a career of rotating between positions at Harvard and in "the Building." He, too, is a Yalie and a Rhodes scholar, with a PhD. from Oxford. "Ash"—in Washington, a first-name-only identifier ("Henry," "Zbig," "Hillary") signifies that you have truly arrived—is the author of books and articles galore, including one op-ed co-written with former Secretary of Defense William Perry back in 2006 calling for preventive war against North Korea. Military action "undoubtedly carries risk," he bravely acknowledged at the time. "But the risk of continuing inaction in the face of North Korea's race to threaten this country would be greater"—just the sort of logic periodically trotted out by the likes of Herman Kahn and Albert Wohlstetter.

………

Let me propose an experiment. Put them on furlough. Not permanently—just until the last of the winter snow finally melts in New England. Send them back to Yale for reeducation. Let's see if we are able to make do without them even for a month or two.

In the meantime, invite Iraq and Afghanistan War vets to consider how best to deal with ISIS. Turn the op-ed pages of major newspapers over to high school social studies teachers. Book English majors from the Big Ten on the Sunday talk shows. Who knows what tidbits of wisdom might turn up?
We are a tribal society, and the tribe of the Ivy League has run our country for a very long time, the last 4 Presidents were Ivy Leaguers, and they have proven themselves to be incapable of recognizing reality.

25 March 2015

Our F%$#ed Up Drug Policy, Colorado Edition

Though sales of recreational marijuana are increasing swiftly, medical marijuana sales in Colorado fell during 2014, GreenWave Advisors calculated, along with the number of new medical cardholders, CNBC reported. Many medical users in the state have begun to purchase on the recreational side despite a lower tax rate.

………

“As long as Medpot is illegal on the federal level no one wants to register for a pot card for fear the feds now know who and where they are, knowing fully the feds could and would come bust them on a federal charge,” wrote Jeffrey Moab in a comment attached to the CNBC story. “People are willing to pay extra bucks to remain invisible to the feds.”
We need to take pot off the schedule 1 registry.

UK, France, Germany, and Italy to Join the Chinese led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, White House Unamused

After many years with the Congress delaying IMF reform to allow greater influence for emerging market nations, China has created its own analogue, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).

The United States has responded by leaning on nations to not join the bank.

It's not working. First, Britain joined the bank despite heavy US pressure:
The White House has issued a pointed statement declaring it hopes and expects the UK will use its influence to ensure that high standards of governance are upheld in a new Chinese-led investment bank that Britain is to join.

In a rare public breach in the special relationship, the White House signalled its unease at Britain’s decision to become a founder member of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) by raising concerns about whether the new body would meet the standards of the World Bank.

The $50bn (£33.5bn) bank, which is designed to provide infrastructure funds to the Asia-Pacific region, is viewed with great suspicion by Washington officials, who see it as a rival to the World Bank. They believe Beijing will use the bank to extend its soft power in the region.

The White House statement reads: “This is the UK’s sovereign decision. We hope and expect that the UK will use its voice to push for adoption of high standards.”

George Osborne – who has discussed the decision to become a founder member of the investment bank with his US counterpart, Jack Lew – has been the driving force behind developing closer economic ties between Britain and China. The chancellor has led the way in encouraging Chinese investment in the next generation of civil nuclear power plants in the UK and he ensured that the City of London would become the base for the first clearing house for the yuan outside Asia.

The US administration made clear in no uncertain terms its displeasure about Osborne’s decision to join the AIIB. A US official told the Financial Times: “We are wary about a trend toward constant accommodation of China, which is not the best way to engage a rising power.”

Britain was unsurprised by the decision of the US administration to air its concerns in public after the formal announcement that the UK would join the new investment bank. Sources said, in addition to the talks about British plans between the chancellor and the US treasury secretary, British and US officials have been in regular contact ahead of the announcement. UK officials say that, by joining the bank as a founding member, Britain will be able to shape the new institution.

In its statement to the Guardian, the White House national security council said: “Our position on the AIIB remains clear and consistent. The United States and many major global economies all agree there is a pressing need to enhance infrastructure investment around the world. We believe any new multilateral institution should incorporate the high standards of the World Bank and the regional development banks.
And then a week later, France, Germany and Italy joined the AIIB:
A senior US diplomat said it was up to individual countries to decide on joining a new China-led lending body, as media reports said France, Germany and Italy have agreed to follow Britain’s lead and join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).

A growing number of close allies were ignoring Washington’s pressure to stay out of the institution, the Financial Times reported, in a setback for US foreign policy.

In China the state-owned Xinhua news agency said South Korea, Switzerland and Luxembourg were also considering joining.

The Financial Times, quoting European officials, said the decision by the four countries to become members of the AIIB was a blow for Washington, which has questioned if the new bank will have high standards of governance and environmental and social safeguards.

The bank is also seen as contributing to the spread of China’s “soft power” in the region, possibly at the expense of the United States.

On Tuesday Washington’s top diplomat for east Asia signalled that the concerns about the AIIB remained but the decision on whether to join was up to individual nations.

“Our messaging to the Chinese consistently has been to welcome investment in infrastructure but to seek unmistakable evidence that this bank … takes as its starting point the high watermark of what other multilateral development banks have done in terms of governance,” US regional assistant secretary of state Daniel Russel said in Seoul.
If you think that this is really about transparency in the new bank, I have some of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction that I want to sell you.

This is about the US maintaining hegemony over international financial institutions.

The maintenance of hegemonic control of international institutions, along with the maintenance of an overwhelming military force, seem to be the paramount goals of the United States.

It is also unsustainable.

If America's poodle, the UK, ignored US pressure to join this bank, it is clear that the "Unipolar World" edifice created following the fall of the USSR is a model that the rest of the world is no longer willing to tolerate.

If the US is forced to go it alone on everything, we will eventually run out of the resources to destabilize unfriendly regimes, rain down Hellfire missiles from drones, prop up despots, and invade other countries.

It would be much better if the military and foreign policy establishment in the United States realized this, and went forward with a transition to a more sustainable, and more humane, path, but I am not holding my breath on that one.

Live in Obedient Fear, Citizen!

It appears that the acting as the private security firm for TransCanada:
Unexpected visitors have been dropping in on anti-oil activists in the United States — knocking on doors, calling, texting, contacting family members.

The visitors are federal agents.

Opponents of Canadian oil say they’ve been contacted by FBI investigators in several states following their involvement in protests that delayed northbound shipments of equipment to Canada’s oilsands.

A lawyer working with the protesters says he’s personally aware of a dozen people having been contacted in the northwestern U.S. and says the actual number is probably higher.

Larry Hildes says it’s been happening the last few months in Washington State, Oregon and Idaho. He says one person got a visit at work, after having already refused to answer questions.

“They appear to be interested in actions around the tarsands and the Keystone XL pipeline,” Hildes said in an interview.

“It’s always the same line: ‘We’re not doing criminal investigations, you’re not accused of any crime. But we’re trying to learn more about the movement.“’

He’s advised activists not to talk — and they mostly haven’t. That lack of communication has made it a little complicated to figure out what, exactly, the FBI is looking for.

The bureau hasn’t offered too many clues.

………

Is anti-oilsands activity an actual focus of the FBI investigation, or is it merely incidental? The bureau won’t say.

What it will say is that it only investigates potential crimes, not political movements.

“The FBI has the authority to conduct an investigation when it has reasonable grounds to believe that an individual has engaged in criminal activity or is planning to do so,” said FBI spokeswoman Ayn Dietrich.

“This authority is based on the illegal activity, not on the individual’s political views.”

But activists say oil sands opposition appears to be the common thread among people being contacted. Police have been in touch with people from different groups, who in some cases don’t agree on much, but one thing they share is mutual participation in the so-called megaload protests.
Why is the FBI acting as TransCanada's Pinkertons?

At what level is this being authorized?

How the Creators of Bitcoin Blew It, Part LXIX

The good folks come up with yet another problem with Bitcoin, this one deriving from a complete lack of understanding of hundreds of jurisprudence.

This could mean that if a Bitcoin holder has a claim against them, and makes a purchase or a money transfer with Bitcoin, whoever received the funds may be legally required to return the money, even if the person is many transfers down the chain of custody:
At cryptocurrency and fintech conferences, FT Alphaville often hears Bitcoin enthusiasts make the assertion that Bitcoin is superior to fiat currency because it eliminates debt from the monetary system.

But this, of course, is a fallacy.

Bitcoin may have the potential to create a fully-funded reserve system, but it certainly doesn’t eliminate debt from any system.

At best, Bitcoin’s public ledger records a transfer of digital access rights in the eyes of the clearing network. It does not, however, record or see the terms and conditions of that transfer.

Indeed, as far as the clearing network is concerned all it knows is that a transfer has occurred. Party A’s wallet has been debited while party B’s wallet has been credited.

This is something akin to witnessing a physical coin being passed from one hand to the other. Yet what the process doesn’t do is log the conditionality of the transfer — which is still the subject of private agreement and contract law.

……… [snipped a Soprano's based loan sharking example]

As far as contract law is concerned, even if Satoshi Dice received the bitcoin in good faith from Soprano’s debtor, Soprano himself (despite his unorthodox shake-down tactics) retains a right to seize his property back. And if they passed it on, he can pursue the next party. And so on. Especially since the bitcoin network makes it so easy to follow the trail due to the public nature of the ledger. Eventually, if the coin ends up with a high-value investor or institutional account whose identity is known to the system a formal claim can be made by means of the judicial system.

It’s these sorts of preceding property claims that the bitcoin system not only fails to eliminate, but arguably empowers by making the paper trail so incredibly transparent. But to what degree is the law really on Tony Soprano’s side when it comes to his claim? (And we’re not referring to his violent retrieval methods, which obviously remain illegal.)

George K Fogg at law firm Perkins Coie has been thinking about the problem of past claims (or liens) on bitcoins for nearly 14 months now.

His conclusion: under the United States’ UCC code (uniform commercial code) as long as bitcoins are treated as general intangibles, no high value investor can be sure that an angry Tony Soprano won’t show up one day to claim that the bitcoins they thought they received in a completely unencumbered manner are actually his. In fact, it’s only if and when Tony Soprano publicly renounces his claim to the underlying bitcoin collateral he is owed that the bitcoins stand a chance of being treated as unencumbered. Until then, a hot potato claim risk exists for every future acquirer of Soprano’s bitcoin.

Indeed, given the high volume of fraud and default in the bitcoin network, chances are most bitcoins have competing claims over them by now. Put another way, there are probably more people with legitimate claims over bitcoins than there are bitcoins. And if they can prove the trail, they can make a legal case for reclamation.

………

The irony of all this for anti-government minded Bitcoin investors is that it’s only by transferring bitcoins into the established financial system that they can be sure to be protected from outstanding Tony Soprano claims on their bitcoin.

As Fogg notes:
My libertarian friends have a belief they have created something that is outside of any statutory governance, and my response is you have created something novel that can help in transferring value across borders but you can’t pretend that the UCC doesn’t exist and because it does exist it affects bitcoin. Bitcoin is governed by the UCC. You can be an ostrich and pretend that it’s not covered by it, or you can address that it is in fact covered by the statute and find a way to solve the problem.
What a surprise.

A security is created by some libertarian idiot who thought that it could be used to leave our society for Galt's Gulch.

Not so much.

The Germanwings Crash Begins to be a Bit Less Mysterious

They have not yet found the flight data recorder, but they have released the cockpit voice recorder (CVR), and it appears that one of the pilots was locked out of the cockpit:
As officials struggled Wednesday to explain why a jet with 150 people on board crashed amid a relatively clear sky, an investigator said evidence from a cockpit voice recorder indicated one pilot left the cockpit before the plane’s descent and was unable to get back in.

A senior military official involved in the investigation described “very smooth, very cool” conversation between the pilots during the early part of the flight from Barcelona, Spain, to Düsseldorf, Germany. Then the audio indicated that one of the pilots left the cockpit and could not re-enter.

“The guy outside is knocking lightly on the door, and there is no answer,” the investigator said. “And then he hits the door stronger, and no answer. There is never an answer.”

He said, “You can hear he is trying to smash the door down.”

While the audio seemed to give some insight into the circumstances leading to the Germanwings crash on Tuesday morning, it also left many questions unanswered.
It's now beginning to sound like deliberate action by one of the pilots, though it's curious that the descent was not steeper.

Great Headline



The story is pretty good too:
Stuffed bunnies were hopped up on meth, federal agents say

By Steve Strunsky | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com on March 24, 2015 at 1:15 PM, updated March 24, 2015 at 4:51 PM

Federal drug agents at JFK airport found a pair of plush toy bunnies stuffed with an unusual and illegal substance: a kilo of meth.

Drug Enforcement Administration agents at JFK recognized Lucas Dasilva, a suspected drug methamphetamine dealer wanted on drug charges in Florida, after he stepped off a flight to JFK from California on Friday, the New York Post reported.

Investigators said the 35-year-old was carrying a Brazilian passport with a fake name, plus luggage containing the two bunnies, according to the Post.

"A search revealed two stuffed rabbits which were unusually heavy and made a crunching noise when squeezed," stated court papers quoted by the Post.

One of the bunnies was big and brown, while the other was small and white, the Daily News reported.
This is epic.

H/t Jim Romenesko.

24 March 2015

"Concrete" Chuck Bednark 1925-2015


I always thought that he got a bad rap over this
Chuck Bednarik was the last player in the NFL to play both offense and defense for the whole game throughout his career:
If you were born in 1959 (or later), you missed out on a lot of cool stuff. Here's Exhibit A: You never got to see the great Hall of Famer Chuck Bednarik play football for the Philadelphia Eagles.

Instead, a young kid starting to watch the game in the mid-late 1960s felt only the shadow of a legend, looming over the game at a moment when the world was changing so quickly. In that era, NFL TV announcers spoke of Bednarik -- who'd retired two seasons after leading the Eagles to their last-ever pro football championship in 1960 -- in almost reverent tones. Much of the awe was inspired by Bednarik's most remarkable accomplishment -- playing the entire 60 minutes in a game, as both a center on offense and a bone-crushing linebacker on defense. He was pro football's last two-way player.

Also, for all of us latecomers, there was The Picture -- Bednarik, looking like an ambulatory slab of granite and exalting after he'd flattened the Giants' Hollywood-handsome star receiver Frank Gifford (not realizing that Gifford was out cold, and about to spend the next year-and-a-half out of football) during a key game that propelled them toward that 1960 title.

………

Two years ago, I reported that, with little fanfare, Bednarik -- along with two other now-deceased Eagles' Hall of Fame legends Steve Van Buren and Pete Pihos -- had joined the NFL's Plan 88 to pay medical bills for ex-players dealing with dementia or related health issues. This weekend, Bednarik's oldest daughter voiced anger at the Eagles for the team's announcement that Bednarik died from "a brief illness." "He died from dementia from football-related head injuries," Charlene Thomas told the Express-News newspaper. "It was not brief."
And, of course, CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) raises its head once again.

This Business Will get out of Control. It Will get out of Control and we'll be Lucky to Live Through It.

The military dick waving in Europe is getting out of control.

First, the US engages in show of force in the Atlantic Resolve exercise, and Russia responded with its own maneuvers, first with 40,000 troops, and a few days later another 40,000:
Russia said Thursday it had doubled the number of troops taking part in mass drills ordered by President Vladimir Putin this week to 80,000 in a major show of strength amid tensions with the West over Ukraine.

Putin on Monday ordered drills for more than 40,000 troops in regions spanning the country, from the Arctic to the far east to the volatile southern Caucasus, and ordered nuclear bomber jets to be deployed in Crimea a year after its annexation by Moscow.

Russia's chief of the general staff, Valery Gerasimov, said Thursday that the "number of troops taking part in the exercises has gone up to 80,000, and the number of aircraft has increased to 220," quoted by RIA Novosti state news agency.

Troops in the western and central regions and military aircraft were scrambled for exercises, Gerasimov said.

The drills are the latest in a succession of large-scale military maneuvers that Moscow has ordered as relations with the West have plunged to a post-Cold War low over the crisis in Ukraine.
Note that Atlantic Resolve deployed something on the order of 3000 troops, and on short notice, the Russians deployed nearly 30 times that, and included a much wider variety of forces.

BTW, western military analysts were very impressed with the speed and competence of the Russian deployment:
"It's helped us further develop our understanding of freedom of movement in Eastern Europe," said Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, the Army's most senior commander in Europe, in an interview with Defense News and Army Times reporters and editors.

………

"[Russian President Vladimir] Putin exercises freedom of movement all the time" within Russia, Hodges said, and the US plans to demonstrate how it converges people and vehicles, a "tremendous opportunity" to practice and reassure allies in the face of Russian aggression. To pull it off, the Army is navigating diplomatic requirements and assessing infrastructure among Eastern European allies.

"This is what the US Army does, we can move a lot of capability a long distance," Hodges said. "I've been watching the Russian exercises ... what I cared about is they can get 30,000 people and 1,000 tanks in a place really fast. Damn, that was impressive."

The remarks coincide with the one-year anniversary of Russia's annexation of Crimea, condemned by Kiev and the West as an illegal land grab but heralded by many Russians as correcting a historic injustice.

Aside from the Russian military's ability to converge quickly, Hodges noted Russia's modernized jamming and signal direction-finding capabilities, stressing the importance of US troops using secure communications.
And our military is determined to continue to engage in dick swinging against country with the 2nd largest nuclear arsenal in the world.

As I stated earlier today, this is not the sort of stuff that should only be done when there are specific orders authorizing the action by civilian authorities.

I will add that if this was a decision by civilian authorities, that person needs to be fired.


H/t Information Dissemination.





Worst ……… Recipe ……… Ever!!!!

Placenta Chocolate Truffles.

No, this is not The Onion, nor is it the Duffel Blog, nor The Daily Mash, nor The Daily Currant.

It is also not Fox News:
LONDON, UK — Yes, some people blend their placentas after birth and drink them in smoothies. Yes, some dehydrate the organ that connects a fetus to a mother’s uterus, grind it up into powder and consume it in everything from pills to cookies.

This is a thing. It is enough of a thing that it has its own word, placentophagy, which is the act of eating the placenta after birth.

Whether this should be a legal thing — or, more specifically, whether specialists should be allowed to prepare placenta-based foods for others, for a fee — is currently the subject of passionate debate here in the United Kingdom.

Last week, health officials in Swindon, England, served a woman named Kathryn Beale with a notice that her business preparing capsules of dried placenta for newly delivered mothers posed “serious risk to human health.”

Beale challenged the notice in court, and won the right to continue business while local health officials prepare a formal inspection.

The case comes months after the European Food Safety Authority ruled placenta-based products a “novel food,” meaning that vendors have to produce extensive and expensive documentation to sell them legally in the European Union.

Countries can individually exempt foods from the ruling. Placenta advocates have asked Britain to do this.

The businesses of Beale and dozens of other placenta specialists around the UK are in limbo while the country’s Food Standards Agency figures out where in the regulatory framework placenta products belong.

………

Babies emerge from their mothers’ bodies in a dramatic moment of tears and emotion. Placentas follow a few minutes later in a gloopy, unheralded mess.
In the old days, it was called "afterbirth">
For a long time, placentas were just part of the bloody detritus of birth, with the vast majority sentenced to hospital incinerators. But in the late 1960s and early 1970s, around the time of rising interest in the United States in midwife-led, medication-free childbirth, a group of US midwives began advocating the consumption of placenta as a defense against postpartum depression, iron deficiency and a host of other concerns for mothers.

People do a lot with placentas these days. The internet abounds with Pinterest-ready, do-it-yourself recipes for placenta prints, placenta tonics, placenta balms and placenta chocolate truffles.
(emphasis mine)

Un-dirtyword-believable.

Even in the context of British cuisine, this is f%$#ing extreme.

Really Bad Day at the Office


Line width is altitude, circles represent speed


Little pieces indicate high speed impact
Germanwings Flight 9525 flying from Barcelona to Düsseldorf has crashed in the Alps, there appear to be no survivors. The flight profile is kind of weird:
A passenger jet carrying 150 people crashed in the French Alps on Tuesday. Officials expect no survivors.

Germanwings Flight 9525 left Barcelona at 10:01 a.m. CET for Dusseldorf and went down about 430 miles south-southeast of Paris. The plane, a 24-year-old Airbus A320, was operated by the Lufthansa-owned budget carrier.

Images from the crash site show small pieces of the plane scattered throughout the mountainside, suggesting a violent impact — and significantly decreasing the likelihood of any survivors.

"Appalling images in this mountain landscape," said Christopher Castaner, deputy mayor of Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, near where the plane crashed. "There is nothing left but debris and bodies."

Germanwings officials initially said Flight 9295 sent a distress signal about an hour after takeoff before crashing into a mountainous zone at an altitude of about 6,550 feet.

The descent from 38,000 feet lasted nearly eight minutes.

However, France's aviation authority reported that the plane never sent a signal, and officials lost radio contact with the flight. The plane went down in mid-flight — an uncommon occurrence as the majority of plane crashes happen during takeoff or landing.
(emphasis mine)

This is weird.

The flight profile appears to be consistent with a loss of pressure incident, where the pilots try to get down to safe altitude, and if this situation led to a loss of situational awareness as well, it could end with a CFIT (Controlled Flight Into Terrain).

But they should have gotten a call out, or at least change the transponder code to the emergency setting, but they did neither.

Another possibility is some sort of air data sensor problem, but I would expect something like an Air France 447 scenario, with a stall or some other departure under those circumstances.

Also, it appears that while the flight did divert from its assigned altitude, it did not deviate from its planned course.

That's just plain weird:
  • The aircraft appeared under control throughout the flight.
  • There was no distress call.
  • They did not divert to a nearby airport.
  • The aircraft had been checked out by maintenance on the previous day. (First link)
This is, to quote Alice, "Curiouser and curiouser."

Absent some conspiracy theories that sound like they came from the short-lived X-Files spinoff The Lone Gunman, I am at a loss.

Here's hoping that the flight data recorder will provide a clue.

Moar War!!!!

Remember how Barack Obama was going to pull out Afghanistan?

Not so Much:
The Obama administration is nearing a decision to keep more troops in Afghanistan next year than it had intended, effectively upending its drawdown plans in response to roiling violence in the country and another false start in the effort to open peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government.

As recently as last month, American officials had hoped that a renewed push to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table would yield the beginnings of a peace process and allow the United States to stick with its plan to drop the number of troops in Afghanistan from just under 10,000 to about 5,600 by the end of the year.

But those hopes have been dashed by signs that the Taliban remain deeply divided over whether to engage in talks, as they have been for years, and that the remaining Qaeda presence in the region is proving more resilient than officials had anticipated.

………

Keeping the number of troops closer to 10,000 would also allow the American-led coalition to maintain two large bases in Kandahar, the main city in southern Afghanistan, and in Jalalabad, the biggest city in the country’s east. The base in Jalalabad is a hub for the collection of intelligence on Qaeda operations; it was, for instance, the base from which American forces launched the raid in 2011 that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.

Despite the formal end of the American-led combat mission in Afghanistan, coalition forces are still regularly launching airstrikes to support Afghan soldiers and police, and American Special Operations troops are still raiding remote villages and mountainside redoubts that shelter both Taliban fighters and operatives from Al Qaeda and other foreign extremist groups.


The continuity between the Bush and the Obama administration has become more and more striking over the years.

Same as it ever was!
It's one thing to listen to your generals, who come from a culture that thinks that the problem with the whole Vietnam war wasn't the 58,000 American dead, or the 1½-3½ million Vietnamese, but instead was that we lacked sufficient will to win, and it's another to swallow this perverted world view as gospel.

The Pentagon in general, and the uniformed military in particular, is structured with the singular goal of prosecuting a war.  They spectacularly ill-equipped to determine whether and when we should go to war, and only misery and defeat can come from letting them take this roll.

It's one of the reasons that civilian control of the military is enshrined in the constitution.

Clearly, We Need to Have a Full Congressional Investigation Over This………

It appears that the White House and its head florist have parted ways, and some reporter who really needs to get a life demands to know why:
When White House chief pastry chef Bill Yosses left the executive mansion last summer, the president publicly mourned the loss of “the crust master’s” mysteriously addictive pies. And when the first family’s personal chef and pal, Sam Kass, left in December, Michelle Obama heaped praise on Kass’s “extraordinary legacy of progress” in an official White House statement.

But the recent exit of head florist Laura Dowling, who’d been in the job since 2009, has been a much quieter affair. So hush hush, in fact, that most outside of 1600 Penn knew nothing about it. There’s still no official comment on why Dowling is no longer at the White House, but according to a source with close ties to current residence staffers, she was escorted from the building on Friday, Feb. 13.
The East Wing initially confirmed via a very brief e-mail that “Laura left her position earlier this year” but provided no further details. Later, the first lady’s office (not quoting the first lady specifically, mind you) sent this enhanced statement:
“As Chief Florist, Laura Dowling and her team treated guests of the White House to their beautiful floral arrangements. Ms. Dowling’s creations were always lively and colorful, reflecting not only the season but the unique and historic rooms which they graced. No two arrangements were ever the same and each one left guests with a lasting impression of the elegance and history of the People’s House. We are grateful for her contribution over the years and wish her well”
………

Hours after we put in a call to Dowling’s Alexandria floral design shop, Intérieurs et Fleurs, she issued a statement via the law firm Sidley Austin.
“After almost 6 years as Chief Floral Designer at the White House, I have resigned in order to pursue exciting new opportunities and explore my passion for floral artistry and design. Over the next few weeks and months, I’ll be launching a new platform for my work as an author, speaker, instructor and design consultant that builds on the creative ideas and partnerships I’ve formed during my tenure there. It’s been such an honor to work at the White House and I will always be grateful for this incredible opportunity.”
There is then a followup article, which seems to indicate that it was that Michelle Obama wanted to move the White House aesthetics in a new direction, with an equally breathless tone:
………

In this town, matters of taste — much like positions on marriage equality — can “evolve” over time. Just ask Dowling, who left because her “fussy style” was not in line with the first lady’s emerging modern and clean aesthetics, several sources said.


Laura’s work “is just different. I’m not sure if it was right for the White House,” said one top floral designer in the area who has done freelance florist work for splashy big events at 1600 Penn. This designer, like many we talked to, spoke on the condition of anonymity because “the floral community is very small, and nobody wants to put down anybody’s work.”
I understand that this needs to be covered, and I understand that the author, Helena Andrews, is, "The co-author of The Reliable Source," the Washington Post's Society/Gossip column, but the breathless tone is a bit over the top.

Truth be told, I do not blame her.  I blame her editors.

The editors should have told her to walk back the tone a bit.

Those Cheeky Kiwis

Some headline writer at The Press, in Christchurch, NZ, understands Ted Cruz better than the whole of the Washington press corps(e).


H/t Jim Romenesko.

By the Way, the Germans Think that the US Supreme Allied Commander Europe and the Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs are Bat-Sh%$ Insane

I mean seriously nuts, as in Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper raving about how fluoridation is destroying our, "Purity of essence," in Dr. Strangelove.

You remember that movie.  The world ends in the finale.

The headline in Der Speigel is, "Germany Concerned about Aggressive NATO Stance on Ukraine:
US President Obama supports Chancellor Merkel's efforts at finding a diplomatic solution to the Ukraine crisis. But hawks in Washington seem determined to torpedo Berlin's approach. And NATO's top commander in Europe hasn't been helping either.

It was quiet in eastern Ukraine last Wednesday. Indeed, it was another quiet day in an extended stretch of relative calm. The battles between the Ukrainian army and the pro-Russian separatists had largely stopped and heavy weaponry was being withdrawn. The Minsk cease-fire wasn't holding perfectly, but it was holding.

On that same day, General Philip Breedlove, the top NATO commander in Europe, stepped before the press in Washington. Putin, the 59-year-old said, had once again "upped the ante" in eastern Ukraine -- with "well over a thousand combat vehicles, Russian combat forces, some of their most sophisticated air defense, battalions of artillery" having been sent to the Donbass. "What is clear," Breedlove said, "is that right now, it is not getting better. It is getting worse every day."

German leaders in Berlin were stunned. They didn't understand what Breedlove was talking about. And it wasn't the first time. Once again, the German government, supported by intelligence gathered by the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), Germany's foreign intelligence agency, did not share the view of NATO's Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR).

The pattern has become a familiar one. For months, Breedlove has been commenting on Russian activities in eastern Ukraine, speaking of troop advances on the border, the amassing of munitions and alleged columns of Russian tanks. Over and over again, Breedlove's numbers have been significantly higher than those in the possession of America's NATO allies in Europe. As such, he is playing directly into the hands of the hardliners in the US Congress and in NATO.

The German government is alarmed. Are the Americans trying to thwart European efforts at mediation led by Chancellor Angela Merkel? Sources in the Chancellery have referred to Breedlove's comments as "dangerous propaganda." Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier even found it necessary recently to bring up Breedlove's comments with NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg.

The 'Super Hawk'

But Breedlove hasn't been the only source of friction. Europeans have also begun to see others as hindrances in their search for a diplomatic solution to the Ukraine conflict. First and foremost among them is Victoria Nuland, head of European affairs at the US State Department. She and others would like to see Washington deliver arms to Ukraine and are supported by Congressional Republicans as well as many powerful Democrats.

Indeed, US President Barack Obama seems almost isolated. He has thrown his support behind Merkel's diplomatic efforts for the time being, but he has also done little to quiet those who would seek to increase tensions with Russia and deliver weapons to Ukraine. Sources in Washington say that Breedlove's bellicose comments are first cleared with the White House and the Pentagon. The general, they say, has the role of the "super hawk," whose role is that of increasing the pressure on America's more reserved trans-Atlantic partners.

………

But it is the tone of Breedlove's announcements that makes Berlin uneasy. False claims and exaggerated accounts, warned a top German official during a recent meeting on Ukraine, have put NATO -- and by extension, the entire West -- in danger of losing its credibility.
A "Top German Official" just said that Breedlove is lying, and implied strongly that he is doing so to sabotage the negotiations.
………

At the beginning of the crisis, General Breedlove announced that the Russians had assembled 40,000 troops on the Ukrainian border and warned that an invasion could take place at any moment. The situation, he said, was "incredibly concerning." But intelligence officials from NATO member states had already excluded the possibility of a Russian invasion. They believed that neither the composition nor the equipment of the troops was consistent with an imminent invasion.

The experts contradicted Breedlove's view in almost every respect. There weren't 40,000 soldiers on the border, they believed, rather there were much less than 30,000 and perhaps even fewer than 20,000. Furthermore, most of the military equipment had not been brought to the border for a possible invasion, but had already been there prior to the beginning of the conflict. Furthermore, there was no evidence of logistical preparation for an invasion, such as a field headquarters.

Breedlove, though, repeatedly made inexact, contradictory or even flat-out inaccurate statements. On Nov. 18, 2014, he told the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung that there were "regular Russian army units in eastern Ukraine." One day later, he told the website of the German newsmagazine Stern that they weren't fighting units, but "mostly trainers and advisors."

………

Breedlove sees no reason to revise his approach. "I stand by all the public statements I have made during the Ukraine crisis," he wrote to SPIEGEL in response to a request for a statement accompanied by a list of his controversial claims. He wrote that it was to be expected that assessments of NATO's intelligence center, which receives information from all 33 alliance members in addition to partner states, doesn't always match assessments made by individual nations. "It is normal that not everyone agrees with the assessments that I provide," he wrote.

He says that NATO's strategy is to "release clear, accurate and timely information regarding ongoing events." He also wrote that: "As an alliance based on the fundamental values of freedom and democracy, our response to propaganda cannot be more propaganda. It can only be the truth." (Read Breedlove's full statement here.)
Seriously.  His response is nuts.

What's more is shows that Obama is willing to let people under his own command to "freelance" and sabotage diplomatic efforts.
………

The government in Berlin is concerned that Breedlove's statements could harm the West's credibility. The West can't counter Russian propaganda with its own propaganda, "rather it must use arguments that are worthy of a constitutional state." Berlin sources also say that it has become conspicuous that Breedlove's controversial statements are often made just as a step forward has been made in the difficult negotiations aimed at a political resolution. Berlin sources say that Germany should be able to depend on its allies to support its efforts at peace.
(emphasis mine)

It's not just me.  The Germans, i.e. "German Sources", are coming as close as they can to saying that General Breedlove is deliberately sabotaging the negotiations.

Later in the article, a German MP says, ON THE RECORD, "I would prefer that Breedlove's comments on political questions be intelligent and reserved." (emphasis mine)

Not, "Intelligent and reserved?"  It does not sound like General Breedlove has the confidence of our NATO Allies.
………

Although President Obama has decided for the time being to give European diplomacy a chance, hawks like Breedlove or Victoria Nuland are doing what they can to pave the way for weapons deliveries. "We can fight against the Europeans, fight against them rhetorically," Nuland said during a private meeting of American officials on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference at the beginning of February.

In reporting on the meeting later, the German tabloid Bild reported that Nuland referred to the chancellor's early February trip to Moscow for talks with Putin as "Merkel's Moscow stuff." No wonder, then, that people in Berlin have the impression that important power brokers in Washington are working against the Europeans. Berlin officials have noticed that, following the visit of American politicians or military leaders in Kiev, Ukrainian officials are much more bellicose and optimistic about the Ukrainian military's ability to win the conflict on the battlefield. "We then have to laboriously bring the Ukrainians back onto the course of negotiations," said one Berlin official.

………

Nuland has also been open -- at least internally -- about her contempt for European weakness and is famous for having said "F%$# the EU" during the initial days of the Ukraine crisis in February of 2014. Her husband, the neo-conservative Robert Kagan, is, after all, the originator of the idea that Americans are from Mars and Europeans, unwilling as they are to realize that true security depends on military power, are from Venus.

When it comes to the goal of delivering weapons to Ukraine, Nuland and Breedlove work hand-in-hand. On the first day of the Munich Security Conference, the two gathered the US delegation behind closed doors to discuss their strategy for breaking Europe's resistance to arming Ukraine.
And someone in that delegation was alarmed enough by this that they leaked this to the German press, suggesting that some of Breedlove's or Nuland's are appalled at their behavior.
In Berlin, top politicians have always considered a common position vis-a-vis Russia as a necessary prerequisite for success in peace efforts. For the time being, that common front is still holding, but the dispute is a fundamental one -- and hinges on the question of whether diplomacy can be successful without the threat of military action. Additionally, the trans-Atlantic partners also have differing goals. Whereas the aim of the Franco-German initiative is to stabilize the situation in Ukraine, it is Russia that concerns hawks within the US administration. They want to drive back Moscow's influence in the region and destabilize Putin's power. For them, the dream outcome would be regime change in Moscow.
Yes, there are a lot of people in the US foreign policy and military establishments who are continuing to wage war on Russia.

These people are insane.  Russia has 2500-3000 active nuclear weapons.

No wonder you have Mikhail Gorbachev saying that the US war on Russia never ended.

The reason that the Russians see NATO as a belligerent power is because, largely under US prodding, it continues to be a belligerent power with regards to Russia.