31 March 2015

Goodluck Jonathan Defeated in Nigeria

In a first for the west African nation, an incumbent President has been defeated in a bid for reelection.

This is a good thing, because it indicates the development of a more robust political culture, as well as indicating a relatively free and fair election.

On the other hand, the man who won, Muhammadu Buhari, was the military ruler of the nation in the mid-1980s following a coup:
Former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari has become the first opposition candidate to win a presidential election in Nigeria.

Incumbent Goodluck Jonathan telephoned Gen Buhari, 72, on Tuesday night to congratulate him and concede defeat.

Unofficial voting tallies put Gen Buhari more than two million votes ahead of his rival.

Observers have generally praised the election, though there have been allegations of fraud.

"I promised the country free and fair elections. I have kept my word," Mr Jonathan said in a statement.

He said he had conveyed his "best wishes" to Mr Buhari, and urged "those who may feel aggrieved to follow due process... in seeking redress".

A spokesman for Gen Buhari's All Progressives Congress (APC) party praised Mr Jonathan, saying: "He will remain a hero for this move. The tension will go down dramatically."

Gen Buhari's supporters took to the streets in APC strongholds, including the northern cities of Kano and Kaduna, to sing and dance in celebration.
The concession by President Jonathan is a big deal.

It shortcuts the many challenges to the legitimacy of the elections which are legion in that part of a world, and it allows for a smooth transition.

Here's hoping that this will allow for moves to reduce corruption in the infamously crooked government.

Remember the Attempted Coup in Turkey? Not So Much…

In 2003, then Prime Minister, now President, of Turkey, Tayyip Erdogan had over 200 military officers arrested on the charge that they were plotting a coup.

Every single one of them have now been acquitted:
A Turkish court acquitted all 236 military officers in a retrial over an alleged 2003 plot to unseat then-prime minister Tayyip Erdogan, after the prosecutor said key evidence was inadmissible, a defense lawyer told Reuters.

In 2012 a court sentenced the officers to jail over the "Sledgehammer" conspiracy dating back to 2003, a year after now-President Erdogan's AK Party came to power.

However, the constitutional court subsequently ruled that the mishandling of evidence central to the prosecution case -- computer files containing alleged conspiratorial documents -- had violated the defendants' rights, and a retrial began in November last year.

"At the end of the retrial, the judges ruled to annul the previous court decision in favor of acquittal for all defendants," lawyer Celal Ulgen told Reuters.

The alleged plot was said to include plans to bomb mosques and trigger a conflict with Greece by shooting down one of Turkey's own warplanes, paving the way for a military takeover.

Turkish officials suggested evidence in the case had been manipulated by supporters of an Islamic cleric who had been using his influence in the police and judiciary to help Erdogan break the army's power.
When the court is saying that the evidence is "Mishandled", I think that this is a polite way of saying that prosecutors made sh%$ up.

Erdogan certainly had reason to be concerned in 2003, there is a long history of coups in Turkey, but these charges appear to be trumped up.

Seriously, bombing mosques and shooting down their own airplanes?

Now that Erdogan appears to be taking an increasingly anti-democratic stance toward governance, it is significant that the court still acquitted these officers.

The power of the army is still broken, which is a good thing, but Turkey does seem to be headed down a troubling path.

30 March 2015

Amazon is Evil, Part XXIII

It turns out that the company which makes minimum wage workers spend nearly an hour unpaid waiting to be searched while leaving their warehouses, is now making those workers sign 18 month non-compete agreements:
Amazon is the country’s largest and most sophisticated online retailer, but it still runs largely on manual labor. Scattered around the country are massive warehouses staffed by workers who spend their days picking objects off shelves and putting them in boxes. During the holiday season, the company calls on a huge reserve army of temporary laborers.

The work is repetitive and physically demanding and can pay several dollars above minimum wage, yet Amazon is requiring these workers — even seasonal ones — to sign strict and far-reaching noncompete agreements. The Amazon contract, obtained by The Verge, requires employees to promise that they will not work at any company where they "directly or indirectly" support any good or service that competes with those they helped support at Amazon, for a year and a half after their brief stints at Amazon end. Of course, the company’s warehouses are the beating heart of Amazon’s online shopping empire, the extraordinary breadth of which has earned it the title of "the Everything Store," so Amazon appears to be requiring temp workers to foreswear a sizable portion of the global economy in exchange for a several-months-long hourly warehouse gig.

The company has even required its permanent warehouse workers who get laid off to reaffirm their non-compete contracts as a condition of receiving severance pay. When Amazon shut down a massive warehouse in Coffeyville, Kansas, earlier this year, hundreds of employees lost work. One laid-off warehouse worker, who earned just over $12 an hour unloading inbound freight at the Coffeyville facility, showed The Verge a clause in her severance agreement that admonished her to "fully comply" with the noncompetition agreement. This worker wished to remain anonymous because of a non-disclosure agreement she signed with Amazon.

………

Starr, who reviewed the Amazon agreement, said that while attorneys may differ in their interpretations on which services count as having been "supported" by a warehouse employee, the 18-month duration seems "incredibly long," especially for a temporary job. In the case of a stint lasting three months, the restrictions would stretch six times longer than the actual length of employment, Starr noted in an email. "A restriction like this could only be credible if the type of information the individual learned in a short time could be very damaging to the firms."

Yet Garden, the Seattle University law professor, notes that such a contract being legally enforceable may in fact be entirely beside the point in a low-wage workplace. "One way to look at this is as a kind of invidious approach to having workers sign a contract that is very likely to be unenforceable," Garden says. "Knowing that people who have been working for 10 and 11 dollars an hour are not going to be able to hire a lawyer to fight for them later on."
(emphasis mine)

And this last bit is what these non-competes are all about: preying on the weakest and least knowledgeable of their employees in order to maintain a state of serfdom.

It makes Walmart look like Ralph Nader.

Here's hoping that there is a lawyer out there who can find a way to use the RICO law against the motherf%$#ers.

OK, This Idea Makes Sense

It is clear that Elizabeth Warren is not interested in running for President.

It is clear that Elizabeth Warren does not want to run for President.

However, with Harry Reid retiring, the recent moves by liberal organizations to promote Elizabeth Warren as the next Democratic Senate leader seems a good idea.

Unfortunately, Warren appears to have eschewed this idea:
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) announcement Friday that he will not seek reelection next year has progressive groups licking their chops at the prospect of seeing Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) as the Democratic leader.

New York Sen. Charles Schumer, currently Democrats' No. 3 in the Senate, is the heavy favorite to succeed Reid, but progressive groups have other ideas.

Democracy for America (DFA) is urging Warren to run for president, but says that if she passes, they’d back her or someone from her wing of the party as the next Democratic leader in the Senate.“There are real concerns about whether Chuck Schumer should be the frontrunner for leadership in the Senate among progressives,” DFA spokesman Neil Sroka told The Hill. “The Wall Street wing of the party, that Chuck has been close to, is dying, and the Warren wing is rising. So if Sen. Warren chooses not to run for president … she should run for leader of the Senate. She’d make a great leader.”

The Progressive Change Campaign Committee echoed that sentiment, predicting the race for Democratic leader won’t be a coronation for the establishment members of the party believed to be next in line.

“Her lifetime of fighting for the little guy against Wall Street power … shows she can think big, wage tough fights against powerful interests, and win key votes in the Senate,” the PCCC said in a statement. “She's the definition of a leader. … There will likely not be a coronation to replace Harry Reid as Senate Democratic Leader, and Elizabeth Warren is right up there with others as someone who would be taken very seriously."

Warren's office on Friday morning said she would not run for the leader's spot.
(emphasis mine)

I really do hope that it is someone other than Chuck Schumer though, he is basically Wall Street's rent boy.

Indiana is in for a Lot of Well Deserved Hurt

First, notwithstanding claims that the Indiana law is just the same as the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act and other state's laws that require a compelling state interest to interfere with religious observance, the Indiana law is far more extreme:
No one, I think, would ever have denied that Maurice Bessinger was a man of faith.

And he wasn’t particularly a “still, small voice” man either; he wanted everybody in earshot to know that slavery had been God’s will, that desegregation was Satan’s work, and the federal government was the Antichrist. God wanted only whites to eat at Bessinger’s six Piggie Park barbecue joints; so His servant Maurice took that fight all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which in 1968 decided that his religious freedom argument was “patently frivolous.”

………

That’s a good background against which to measure the uproar about the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was signed into law by Governor Mike Pence last week. I don’t question the religious sincerity of anyone involved in drafting and passing this law. But sincere and faithful people, when they feel the imprimatur of both the law and the Lord, can do very ugly things.

There’s a factual dispute about the new Indiana law. It is called a “Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” like the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, passed in 1993.* Thus a number of its defenders have claimed it is really the same law. Here, for example, is the Weekly Standard’s John McCormack: “Is there any difference between Indiana's law and the federal law? Nothing significant.” I am not sure what McCormack was thinking; but even my old employer, The Washington Post, seems to believe that if a law has a similar title as another law, they must be identical. “Indiana is actually soon to be just one of 20 states with a version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, or RFRA,” the Post’s Hunter Schwarz wrote, linking to this map created by the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The problem with this statement is that, well, it’s false. That becomes clear when you read and compare those tedious state statutes. If you do that, you will find that the Indiana statute has two features the federal RFRA—and most state RFRAs—do not. First, the Indiana law explicitly allows any for-profit business to assert a right to “the free exercise of religion.” The federal RFRA doesn’t contain such language, and neither does any of the state RFRAs except South Carolina’s; in fact, Louisiana and Pennsylvania, explicitly exclude for-profit businesses from the protection of their RFRAs.

The new Indiana statute also contains this odd language: “A person whose exercise of religion has been substantially burdened, or is likely to be substantially burdened, by a violation of this chapter may assert the violation or impending violation as a claim or defense in a judicial or administrative proceeding, regardless of whether the state or any other governmental entity is a party to the proceeding.” (My italics.) Neither the federal RFRA, nor 18 of the 19 state statutes cited by the Post, says anything like this; only the Texas RFRA, passed in 1999, contains similar language.

 ………

So, let’s review the evidence: by the Weekly Standard’s definition, there’s “nothing significant” about this law that differs from the federal one, and other state ones—except that it has been carefully written to make clear that 1) businesses can use it against 2) civil-rights suits brought by individuals.

Of all the state “religious freedom” laws I have read, this new statute hints most strongly that it is there to be used as a means of excluding gays and same-sex couples from accessing employment, housing, and public accommodations on the same terms as other people. True, there is no actual language that says, All businesses wishing to discriminate in employment, housing, and public accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation, please check this “religious objection” box. But, as Henry David Thoreau once wrote, “Some circumstantial evidence is very strong, as when you find a trout in the milk.”

So—is the fuss over the Indiana law overblown?

No.

The statute shows every sign of having been carefully designed to put new obstacles in the path of equality; and it has been publicly sold with deceptive claims that it is “nothing new.”

Being required to serve those we dislike is a painful price to pay for the privilege of running a business; but the pain exclusion inflicts on its victims, and on society, are far worse than the discomfort the faithful may suffer at having to open their businesses to all.

As the story of Maurice Bessinger shows us, even dressed in liturgical garments, hateful discrimination is still a pig.
The response has been outrage and boycotts:
Pence has been suggesting that there might be some tweaks made, but so far no one is buying this.

Here is hoping that the anti-gay bigots get their clocks cleaned over this.

29 March 2015

This is a Very Good Idea

For many years, the Department of Defense's spending has been so byzantine that it has been impossible to conduct a meaningful audit of their spending.

a bipartisan group of Senators has put forward a bill that would strip the Pentagon of authority if this situation continues:
A bipartisan group of senators has introduced legislation that would impose penalties on the Defense Department if the agency fails meet a legally mandated goal of being fully auditable by September 2017.

The bill – sponsored by Republican Sens. Ted Cruz (Texas) and Rand Paul (Ky.) and Democrats Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Ron Wyden (Oregon) – calls for increased oversight every year the department fails to meet the target and would eventually strip the Pentagon’s ability to reprogram and transfer funds between its accounts.

“One of best ways to find the most accurate information about our military’s spending and priorities is to shed light on the Department of Defense budget without jeopardizing our national security secrets,” Manchin, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a statement.

“It is simply unacceptable that the Department of Defense is the only major federal agency that has not completed a financial audit. Our bill will help to solve that problem,” he added.

Since 1997, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has been required to audit the federal government’s consolidated financial statements, but the watchdog agency has repeatedly said its reviews of the Pentagon are not based on accurate data.

In 2010, it was determined that nearly $6 billion spent to improve the agency's financial information was unsuccessful and GAO could not predict when the DOD would be able to provide these financial statements.
Considering that the volume of inefficiency, incompetence, and malfeasance in the Pentagon dwarfs that of the rest of the government, it's a step in the right direction.

The defense budget, and particularly the portion dealing with procurement, is a complete mess.

Clearly, Regulatory Capture is a Myth


What a regulator fellating the industry looks like
Matt Taibbi weighs in on comments made by Andrew Bowden, the SEC's Director of the agency's Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations, at a Stanford Conference of private equity.

Bowdon's comments are best described as obsequious, and unfortunately for him, it was caught on video:
This is courtesy of Yves Smith over at Naked Capitalism, who's been following the strange story of SEC Examination chief Andrew Bowden's evolving position on financial corruption for a while.
That story blew up recently in a remarkable public appearance by Bowden, in which the would-be enforcement official cravenly compliments the industry he supposedly polices and then — get this — jokingly puts forward his own son as a candidate for a job in private equity. On video. You won't see a more brazen example of regulatory capture anywhere.

Some brief backstory. Just a little under a year ago, Bowden, the SEC's Director of Compliance Inspections and Examinations, gave a speech that was remarkably, unusually critical of the Private Equity field. Bowden had conducted a study of the Private Equity business and found that over half of the companies they looked at were guilty of ripping off their clients:
By far, the most common observation our examiners have made when examining private equity firms has to do with the adviser's collection of fees and allocation of expenses. When we have examined how fees and expenses are handled by advisers to private equity funds, we have identified what we believe are violations of law or material weaknesses in controls over 50 percent of the time.
To fully explain what Bowden is talking about here would require a much longer article, but the basics go something like this.

Private Equity reptiles like Mitt Romney make their living borrowing huge sums of money, millions and billions, from investors called "limited partners." They then take that borrowed money and acquire companies with that cash, sometimes with the company's consent, sometimes without it.

The ostensible object of the exercise (at least, this is the way folks in the Private Equity business would describe it) is to make money for the limited partners by acquiring flawed firms, turning them around, and channeling the profits from the reborn target firm back to the investors.

However, from another point of view, the more immediate object of the exercise is to make money for the Private Equity firm. This can be achieved in virtually countless ways once these takeover parasite-pirates have latched on to their target. But the most reliable way of making cash is to soak the acquired company for huge masses of fees, both legit and not.

………

Anyway, last year, Andrew Bowden at the SEC found that over half of the PE/LBO firms he looked at were doing something wrong with fees.

………

The scam here, as Yves Smith points out, is that the investors think that the Private Equity firm is paying for these managers, while in fact they're being paid for by the acquired company. As Smith says, this scheme essentially robs the investors:
From an economic perspective, every dollar that comes out of a portfolio company this way is effectively stolen from the limited partner investors, since they would otherwise have the first claim on the portfolio companies' cash flows.
All of which is a complicated way of saying the following: Takeover Artist Jerks use hidden fees to rip investors off.

Last May, Bowden, a senior SEC official, described this problem as almost epidemic. The SEC looked at 150 companies and over half were guilty of something.

A year later? They're not so worried.

It raised some eyebrows over the course of last summer and fall when the SEC did not follow up on Bowden's remarks.

Even some Private Equity trade publications began to wonder aloud where the beef was, noting that "there hasn't been much additional commentary" from the SEC since Bowden's aggressive speech last May.

Bowden himself seemed to walk back some of his comments in an interview last September. "Anecdotally," he said, "I would say there have been some changes in the behavior on the part of funds and investors and that's all for the good."

Anecdotally? It is a very odd thing to hear a regulator in the middle of a granular, industry-wide examination say that he's heard that things are getting better. Regulation by rumor is not your typical enforcement MO.

By this month, Bowden had achieved a complete 180, telling a conference of PE professionals that their business was just "the greatest."

This is Bowden on March 5th, on a panel for PE and Venture Capital issues at Stanford. Check out how he pooh-poohs the fact that his SEC has seen "some misconduct," before he goes on to grovel before his audience:

………

Not the usual posture you'd expect from an enforcement official. He likes the Private Equity business! They make a lot of money! They help people! And that thing about half of those businesses committing fee abuses, that's just "some misconduct" we found last year. No big deal!

It got worse, though:
Bowden: And so my view on the small ones is, I still think this is one of…I tell my son, I have a teenaged son, I tell him, “Cole, you want to be in private equity. That's where to go, that's a great business, that's a really good business. That'll be good for you.”

So for me personally, as we share our opinions…

Questioner [interrupting] I'd love to hire your son, by the way. That's a deal.
Bowden's comments certainly raised a few eyebrows. The LA Times wrote quite critically about them, as did a few other outlets.

There are some people who will say it's easy to overreact to something like this. If you listen to the tape, Bowden makes his comments in a joking manner, and everyone laughs. It's not like he brought his son onstage and had him hand out resumes after the speech.

But no government regulator with his or her head screwed on correctly would ever go near a joke like that in public. Even if it's not what it very much appears to be, it sounds incredibly bad.

And, worse, it reveals an attitude that's absolutely poisonous among regulators, this fawning worship of people on Wall Street who maybe break a few rules, but that's okay, because they make tons of money! Can you imagine Elliott Ness giving a speech gushing over what nice cars Al Capone drives? It's revolting.

It's not necessary for regulators to hate the greedy bottom-liners who go around toying with peoples' jobs and livelihoods using borrowed money.

It's not even necessary for regulators to hate those same rich takeover artists for paying half the taxes of most ordinary people, because our bought-off government refuses to close the loophole that allows Mitt Romney to call the money he makes "carried interest" instead of income.

We don't need regulators to be out to get anyone. But is a healthy indifference too much to ask? Do we really need for even the regulators to slobber over these people?
Even if what he said was a joke, the fact that he could make this statement in a room full of potential targets for his investigations, it is a slam dunk for regulatory capture.

I don't know if Andrew Bowden is particularly good at his job.

At this point, I don't care.

His head needs to be metaphorically put on the end of a pike as a warning to others.

Fire him now.

Godwin's Law* Notwithstanding, How can this Not Evoke Nazi Germany

It turns out that for a number of years, the Nashville District Attorney's office has been demanding sterilizations as a part of a plea bargain:
The district attorney in Nashville, Tennessee, recently ordered prosecutors to stop making sterilization part of a plea bargain. "The bottom line is the government can't be ordering a forced sterilization," Davidson County District Attorney Glenn Funk told the Associated Press in a story published Saturday.

Funk said a better alternative is to order people to stay away from children.

The most recent example of a court-ordered sterilization requirement in Tennessee came in the case of Jasmine Randers, 36, who suffers from depression and paranoia. The Nashville Tennessean reported Randers' 4-day-old daughter died during a bus trip to Nashville from West Memphis, Arkansas, where she gave birth at Crittenden Regional Hospital. At the time, Randers was on the lam from a treatment center in Minnesota, one of 20 hospitalizations for her mental illness, the Tennessean reported earlier this month.

Though no cause of death was established, Randers was charged with aggravated child neglect. She had boarded the bus without any bottles of formula because they were too heavy to carry, the Tennessean said.

Assistant Public Defender Mary Kathryn Harcombe told the Tennessean that Assistant District Attorney Brian Holmgren would not even discuss a plea deal unless Randers agreed to have her tubes tied. Harcombe went over his head to Funk.

"I have let my office know that that is not an appropriate condition of a plea," Funk said. "It is now policy that sterilization will never be a condition of deal-making in the district attorney's office."

Randers currently is committed to a mental health facility in western Tennessee.

David LaBahn, president of the national organization the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, said his organization urges prosecutors to look for alternatives to prison, and in child abuse cases, birth control often is a condition for probation.

But the concept of forced sterilization evokes a time in U.S. history when the mentally ill often were subjected to the procedure.

"The history of sterilization in this country is that it is applied to the most despised people -- criminals and the people we're most afraid of, the mentally ill -- and the one thing that these two groups usually share is that they are the most poor. That is what we've done in the past, and that's a good reason not to do it now," Georgia State University law Professor Paul Lombardo told the AP.

The AP cited cases in which sterilization was made a condition for eliminating or reducing prison time in West Virginia and Virginia. In California, Gov. Jerry Brown last year signed legislation preventing state prisons from forcing female inmates to undergo the procedure after an audit found some of the 150 sterilizations performed were done without inmate consent.
As is shown from the picture in this article, Ms. Randers is black.

Anyone want to guess what proportion of the other defendants so coerced were black?

This is so wrong on so many levels.

H/t Atrios.

*Godwin's Law: "As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches One."

28 March 2015

Back from Elmira

Natalie was most impressed with Elmira College.

She spent the night in a dorm and hung with some current students.

The area around there is lovely as well.

After the tour, we went to Corning, and saw the glass museum.

That being said, the trip was a little bit over 4 hours each way, and I did most of the driving.

At this point, I need an air pump to inflate my butt cheeks.



Posted via mobile.

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."

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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.
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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.
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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.

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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.