Saturday, March 28, 2015

For G.O.P., Support for Israel Becomes New Litmus Test

By PETER BAKER, NYT
MARCH 27, 2015

WASHINGTON — When former Secretary of State James A. Baker III accused Israel’s leader this week of undermining the chances of peace in the region, he said nothing more than the kinds of things he had said at times when he was in office a quarter-century ago.

But the instant backlash from fellow Republicans that prompted Jeb Bush, the son of Mr. Baker’s best friend, to distance himself underscored just how much their party has changed on the issue of Israel. Where past Republican leaders had their disagreements with Israel, today’s Republicans have made support for the Jewish state an inviolable litmus test for anyone aspiring to national office.

“If you’re a Republican and you hedge on your support on Israel, it’s viewed as having a flawed foreign policy,” said Ron Bonjean, a party strategist who has worked for Republican leaders in Congress. “It’s a requirement for Republicans these days to be very strong on Israel if they’re going to be taken seriously by primary voters.” Any deviation on that, he said, leads to inevitable questions: “If you’re not supporting Israel, then who are you supporting? Are you supporting Iran?”

(More here.)

Lee Kuan Yew, the Man Who Remade Asia

He preached ‘Asian values’ and turned a tiny, poor city-state into an astonishing economic success. Is Lee’s ‘Singapore model’ the future of Asia?

By Orville Schell, WSJ
March 27, 2015 12:59 p.m. ET

When I arrived in Singapore one sultry summer evening in 1962 as a 22-year-old student, the Union Jack still fluttered over the British colony. Coolies unloaded wooden boats on the docks, per capita income was languishing under $500 and the young independence leader Lee Kuan Yew was still in his 30s. It was a far cry from today’s well-ordered cityscape of manicured parks, gleaming office towers, high-rise apartment blocks filled with middle-class families and glittering malls swarming with wealthy consumers.

What distinguished Singapore back then was its colonial torpor, a total absence of natural resources (not even its own supply of drinking water) and little industry. It was a small, backward Third World outpost. Besides a few iconic British buildings, the city consisted mostly of low arcaded “shop houses,” flimsy street stalls that made up its outdoor markets and a chaotic infinity of dilapidated shacks that formed the slums where most of Singapore’s poor Chinese, Malay and Tamil immigrants made their homes.

As Europe’s colonial era in Asia drew to a close, this ragtag, polyglot populace had turned for leadership to a fiery young anti-colonialist organizer called Harry Lee (as Lee Kuan Yew was then known). By the time he died last week at the age of 91, after serving his country for well over a half-century, not just Singapore but much of Asia had come under his thrall.

(The article is here.)

Stories From Inside the Putin Propaganda Machine

By Polly Mosendz 3/27/15, Newsweek

Recalling the mentality inside Russia’s government-sanctioned Internet propaganda system, Marat Burkhard told Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty (RFERL): “Whatever we're told, that's what we'll write about, no questions asked, and we don't want to know."

The so-called Internet Research center’s various departments are all dedicated to promoting positive images of Russia, and especially of President Vladimir Putin. According to RFERL, the center has departments dedicated to sending out tweets and to posting comments on news websites such as BBC and CNN and on municipal website forums. Some employees also maintain fake accounts on Facebook, LiveJournal and vKontakte (the Russian version of Facebook).

Burkhard said he was part of the system for two months, earning $700 a month; managers earn almost double that, a substantial wage in Russia. He said he went through a strenuous interview process.

“You have to write sample texts first, and then they decide if you're suitable for the work. They weed people out that way,” he told RFERL. “First they make you write something neutral--Vegetarianism: Pros And Cons. After that, the assignments start to get more to the point; for example, what do I think about humanitarian convoys in Donetsk?”

Burkhard said he is generally pro-Western, but he did not allow this to affect his interview process. After being hired, he was assigned to a 20-employee department that posts comments on municipal websites in Russia. Burkhard worked 12-hour shifts during which he had to write 135 comments, each at least 200 characters long.

(More here.)

Friday, March 27, 2015

Israeli influence halting Iran nuclear deal

Time to turn off the money spigot to Netanyahu & Co.

Tom Maertens, Mankato Free Press
Posted: Friday, March 27, 2015 6:00 am

During the final days of Israel’s election campaign, Benjamin Netanyahu announced that there would be no Palestinian state if he were elected. He subsequently retracted the statement, but there is little doubt that it reflects his current policy; he has consistently approved Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank which will preclude a contiguous Palestinian state, the “two-state solution” that is a central element of US policy in the Middle East.

The U.S. has been calling the Israeli settlements “an obstacle to peace,” since the administration of Bush senior. Simultaneously, it has protected Israel, including from international sanctions over its mistreatment of the Palestinians, with its U.N. veto. This will likely be reassessed.

Additionally, the U.S. gives Israel more than $3 billion a year in aid, plus military technology, and helps pay for the rebuilding of Gaza after Israel’s periodic attacks.

Another result of the election is that Netanyahu will continue his de-facto alliance with congressional Republicans who are trying to sabotage P5+1 negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program.

Netanyahu has been sounding the alarm since 1992, 23 years ago, when he said that Iran was 3 to 5 years away from a nuclear weapon. This is the same guy who said in 2002 that: “If you take out Saddam … I guarantee you that it will have enormous positive reverberations on the region.” Israel’s position then and now, as Netanyahu said, was that the Iranian threat had to be “uprooted by an international front headed by the U.S.” In other words, the U.S. is supposed to attack Iran to defend Israel.

Hyping the Iran threat has become a virtual cottage industry. Ayatollah Khamenei opposes Israel and supports terrorism, but he has repeatedly and explicitly disavowed using force against Israel.

What he advocates is a referendum among Jews, Arabs and Christians that he believes would vote Israel out of existence, pointing to Israel’s jurisdiction over 4.5 million Arabs; 2.7 million of them live on the West Bank, and can neither vote nor obtain citizenship in the country where they live.

That’s not a democracy.

Iran’s nuclear program is mostly deep underground. Anything short of a nuclear attack would set the program back a few months, perhaps up to a year, but would not eliminate it.

In that regard, the journalist Seymour Hersh wrote in 2006, based on “U.S. sources,” that a strike on Iran was all but inevitable, and that there were even plans to employ tactical nuclear weapons. That’s not implausible when discussing the militantly pro-Israel neo-conservatives.

Their hard-line approach and Israeli objections have resulted in the U.S. turning down two settlement offers better than anything now available. In 2003, Iran proposed an agreement that would have provided broad access to its nuclear facilities, withdrawn Iranian support from Hamas and Hezbollah, and provided Iranian support for a two-state solution for Palestine.

In exchange, the U.S. would have ended sanctions, disbanded the anti-Teheran MEK, ended ‘Axis of Evil’ rhetoric, and re-established diplomatic relations. From 2003-05, Iran proposed to cap its centrifuges at very low levels, keep enrichment levels below weapons grade, and convert its existing enriched uranium into reactor fuel rods. The Bush administration vetoed that offer.

Subsequently, Iran went from 164 centrifuges to 19,000, accumulated more than 17,000 pounds of enriched uranium, and also enhanced its ability to produce weapons-grade plutonium. We are now attempting to close the barn door by capping Iran’s centrifuges at 6,000, which would require a major reduction.

Based on several years working on Iranian nuclear issues, I doubt there is any realistic way to stop Iran from building a nuke if — if — they decide to build one. The knowledge is 1940s technology and they have the capability to produce centrifuges and enrich uranium. But in 30 years, they have not built a bomb, probably because they fear that Sunni states like Saudi Arabia would follow suit.

The reality is that we will probably have to tolerate ambiguity about Iran’s nuclear intentions, but then, we tolerate nukes in the hands of a belligerent North Korea and an unstable Pakistan.

It is time to recognize another reality: Israel is a costly liability, a strategic millstone that compromises our interests and provides us virtually nothing in return.

For 50 years, we have subsidized what has become an apartheid state to the tune of roughly $140 billion. The “payoff” for that has been multiple oil embargoes, Islamic terrorism, and a client state which is becoming an international pariah.

It is time to cut the cord.

Tom Maertens served as National Security Council director for nonproliferation and homeland defense under presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, and as deputy coordinator for counterterrorism in the State Department during and after 9/11.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

What Lies Beneath

In the 1960s, hundreds of pounds of uranium went missing in Pennsylvania. Is it buried in the ground, poisoning locals—or did Israel steal it to build the bomb?

By Scott C. Johnson Photographs by CHRISTOPHER LEAMAN, Foreign Policy

As a kid in the 1960s, Jeff Held thought that having a nuclear company in his backyard made life more exciting in Apollo, Pennsylvania. About 2,400 people lived alongside the Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corporation (NUMEC), the town’s main employer. Held’s neighborhood subsisted on atomic lore: Just 33 miles down the road in Pittsburgh, the Westinghouse Corporation had helped construct the world’s first nuclear submarine, and in Apollo, NUMEC consequently manufactured the requisite nuclear fuel, a source of stirring pride minted by the Cold War.

To Held, the plant, its lights flickering over the western edge of town on the banks of the Kiskiminetas River, was “kind of neat.” When one of the town’s radiation monitors went off, children would dash through neighbors’ backyards to reach the facility—it was housed inside a refurbished steel mill with dirt floors, big windows, and dozens of smokestacks—to see what had happened.

As Held grew older, the plant that inspired his boyish thrill evolved into something more puzzling, and more sinister. NUMEC closed its doors in 1983, and in the mid-1990s, the federal government swooped in and declared several city blocks contaminated. Various agencies rolled in with bulldozers, razed the plant, and carted off the radioactive pieces, barrel by barrel, for disposal. Ever since, Apollo’s residents have been grappling with fears that NUMEC poisoned their town.

Apollo Mayor Jeff Held says many people who lived near NUMEC later died of cancer. The scrap pile behind him contains pieces of the old facility.

One bitterly cold day this January, Held—now 53 and Apollo’s mayor—drove me north on State Route 66, which cuts along one side of the old NUMEC site. A green chain-link fence outlines the desolate acreage where the factory once stood. Held, a stout man with a graying beard, gestured up a hill toward several decaying Victorian houses. The residents, he said, have suffered from various cancers: lung, thyroid, prostate, brain. They have argued that years of radiation soaking into their soil, air, water, clothes, and homes had led to their afflictions. To date, owners of the NUMEC property have shelled out tens of millions of dollars in compensation to locals who’ve filed suit.

(More here.)

Look Before Leaping

Thomas L. Friedman, NYT
MARCH 25, 2015

I can think of many good reasons to go ahead with the nuclear deal with Iran, and I can think of just as many reasons not to. So, if you’re confused, let me see if I can confuse you even more.

The proposed deal to lift sanctions on Iran — in return for curbs on its bomb-making capabilities so that it would take at least a year for Tehran to make a weapon — has to be judged in its own right. I will be looking closely at the quality of the verification regime and the specificity of what happens if Iran cheats. But the deal also has to be judged in terms of how it fits with wider American strategic goals in the region, because a U.S.-Iran deal would be an earthquake that touches every corner of the Middle East. Not enough attention is being paid to the regional implications — particularly what happens if we strengthen Iran at a time when large parts of the Sunni Arab world are in meltdown.

The Obama team’s best argument for doing this deal with Iran is that, in time, it could be “transformational.” That is, the ending of sanctions could open Iran to the world and bring in enough fresh air — Iran has been deliberately isolated since 1979 by its ayatollahs and Revolutionary Guard Corps — to gradually move Iran from being a revolutionary state to a normal one, and one less inclined to threaten Israel. If one assumes that Iran already has the know-how and tools to build a nuclear weapon, changing the character of its regime is the only way it becomes less threatening.

(More here.)

Pakistani Christians Fight Back

ALI SETHI, NYT, MARCH 24, 2015

LAHORE, Pakistan — LAST Monday, this city was briefly overrun with bands of sloganeering, stick-wielding youths. The demonstrators threw stones at police officers, burned car tires and smashed windows. One gang even plundered a 7Up truck, guzzling its goods before transfixed TV cameras. (I watched the footage — slow-mo jets of sparkly liquid, with strains of horror-movie music playing in the background — that night on the Internet.) There was a euphoric edge to the riots, apparent even when they took a grotesquely violent turn with the lynching of two men.

Who were these vandals? And what, if anything, did their actions demonstrate?

If you went by the original news bulletins, they were Christians reacting to a suicide bombing the day before of two churches in Youhanabad, a low-income area of Lahore that is home to some 100,000 Christians. A faction of the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, which killed 15 people and injured dozens. The rioters’ anger was directed at Pakistan’s state and society, which had repeatedly failed to protect them from Islamist extremists. According to one estimate, in the last two years there have been 36 targeted attacks on Pakistani Christians, 265 Christian deaths from suicide bombings and 21 “persecutions” of Christians under Pakistan’s blasphemy law. To their credit, several TV anchors ran heart-rending montages of recent incidents in which Muslim mobs or terrorists had shot, bombed or burned Pakistani Christians.

(More here.)

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

How should journalists treat candidates who deny climate change?

Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times

The GOP Presidential field presents a problem for journalists: How should they treat climate change denial?

Should reporters accept climate change denial as part of the political debate, or challenge it relentlessly?

In the not-so-distant past, it would not have been unusual or unseemly for journalists to identify political candidates making grossly unscientific assertions--that aliens walk among us, say, or the moon is made of green cheese--as crackpots.

Climate change, however, seems to have made cowards of the press. Although the scientific consensus is absolutely indisputable that the climate is warming due to human activity, the issue is typically reduced to a some-say-but-others-dispute debate dividing Republicans (usually deniers) from Democrats (usually accepters).

On his invaluable PressThink blog, press critic Jay Rosen raises the question of how reporters should deal with climate change deniers on the campaign trail. He observes that "claims that climate science is a hoax, or that human action is not a factor are not defensible positions in a political debate." But he's still at a loss to say exactly how the press should report these claims.

The issue's importance is underscored by the entry of Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, into the presidential race on Monday. Cruz is a climate change denier.

(More here.)

Israel Spied on Iran Nuclear Talks With U.S.

Ally’s snooping upset White House because information was used to lobby Congress to try to sink a deal

By Adam Entous, WSJ
March 23, 2015 10:30 p.m. ET

Soon after the U.S. and other major powers entered negotiations last year to curtail Iran’s nuclear program, senior White House officials learned Israel was spying on the closed-door talks.

The spying operation was part of a broader campaign by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to penetrate the negotiations and then help build a case against the emerging terms of the deal, current and former U.S. officials said. In addition to eavesdropping, Israel acquired information from confidential U.S. briefings, informants and diplomatic contacts in Europe, the officials said.

The espionage didn’t upset the White House as much as Israel’s sharing of inside information with U.S. lawmakers and others to drain support from a high-stakes deal intended to limit Iran’s nuclear program, current and former officials said.

“It is one thing for the U.S. and Israel to spy on each other. It is another thing for Israel to steal U.S. secrets and play them back to U.S. legislators to undermine U.S. diplomacy,” said a senior U.S. official briefed on the matter.

The U.S. and Israel, longtime allies who routinely swap information on security threats, sometimes operate behind the scenes like spy-versus-spy rivals. The White House has largely tolerated Israeli snooping on U.S. policy makers—a posture Israel takes when the tables are turned.

(More here.)

Iran’s Hard-Liners Show Restraint on Nuclear Talks With U.S.

Photo: Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in a speech Saturday, said Iran’s establishment favored negotiations over the country’s nuclear program. Credit Office of the Supreme Leader, via European Pressphoto Agency
By THOMAS ERDBRINK, NYT
MARCH 23, 2015

TEHRAN — A coterie of Iran’s hard-line Shiite Muslim clerics and Revolutionary Guards commanders is usually vocal on the subject of the Iranian nuclear program, loudly proclaiming the country’s right to pursue its interests and angrily denouncing the United States.

But as the United States and Iran prepare to restart nuclear talks this week, the hard-liners have been keeping a low profile.

“They have been remarkably quiet,” said Nader Karimi Joni, a former member of the Revolutionary Guards and the Basij, a volunteer paramilitary group.

Their silence is a result of state policies intended by Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to seriously try to find a solution through negotiations. Ayatollah Khamenei has largely supported the nuclear talks and the Iranian negotiators, whom he has called “good and caring people, who work for the country.”

The restraint by the hard-liners also reflects a general satisfaction, analysts say, with the direction of the talks and the successes Iran is enjoying, extending and deepening its influence in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen.

(More here.)

Monday, March 23, 2015

Health Agency Says Widely Used Herbicide Likely Carcinogenic

Herbicide glyphosate is sold by Monsanto under Roundup brand

By Jacob Bunge, WSJ
March 20, 2015 5:05 p.m. ET

Glyphosate, a herbicide widely marketed by Monsanto Co. and other companies, likely has the potential to cause cancer in humans, a World Health Organization agency said Friday.

The determination, published by researchers for the International Agency for Research on Cancer in a U.K. medical journal, is likely to fuel further debate over the safety of the heavily used agricultural chemical, which Monsanto sells under the Roundup brand.

Consumer and environmental groups have long warned of health problems that they say could arise from applying the weedkiller on farms, while agricultural companies have touted the product’s safety and environmental impact as preferable to other, harsher chemicals. Officials at Monsanto and agricultural-chemical trade groups contested Friday’s finding, saying decades of research had proved glyphosate’s safety.

Glyphosate is the most-used herbicide in the U.S., according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Farmers have ramped up its use over the past two decades with the advent of genetically modified crops, including corn and soybeans, which can withstand sprayings of the chemical. Herbicide-tolerant biotech plants were grown on 94% of U.S. soybean fields and 89% of U.S. corn fields last year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

(More here.)

Britain's Terrible, No-Good Economic Discourse

This Snookered Isle

Paul Krugman, NYT, MARCH 23, 2015

The 2016 election is still 19 mind-numbing, soul-killing months away. There is, however, another important election in just six weeks, as Britain goes to the polls. And many of the same issues are on the table.

Unfortunately, economic discourse in Britain is dominated by a misleading fixation on budget deficits. Worse, this bogus narrative has infected supposedly objective reporting; media organizations routinely present as fact propositions that are contentious if not just plain wrong.

Needless to say, Britain isn’t the only place where things like this happen. A few years ago, at the height of our own deficit fetishism, the American news media showed some of the same vices. Allegedly factual articles would declare that debt fears were driving up interest rates with zero evidence to support such claims. Reporters would drop all pretense of neutrality and cheer on proposals for entitlement cuts.

In the United States, however, we seem to have gotten past that. Britain hasn’t.

(More here.)

Far-Right Flocks to Russia to Berate the West

Kremlin-connected lawmaker hosts forum for like-minded from U.S., Europe to sound off

By Alan Cullison, WSJ
March 23, 2015

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia—For more than a year now, the Kremlin has warned of a resurgence of fascism in Europe—meaning the pro-Western government in Ukraine.

But on Sunday, a lawmaker whose party cooperates with the ruling United Russia in parliament, hosted a foreign legion of politicians too far to the right for most of Europe.

For fringe politicians—and some ex-fringe politicians—the trip let them do something they say they can’t back home: sound off against what they call the monolithic message of Washington and Brussels.

“If you tried to have a conference like this in the U.S. or the U.K., it wouldn’t be allowed,” said Nick Griffin, the expelled former leader of the anti-immigrant British National Party. “Russia has shown it is more free than the West.”

President Vladimir Putin has been trying to exploit political rifts in Europe by forging alliances with what were regarded in their home countries as fringe political movements on the left and right. Some have grown in popularity in countries such as Hungary and France, giving the Kremlin a lever to pry against European economic sanctions for the war in Ukraine.

(More here.)

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Europe is belatedly waking up to Russia’s information warfare

Aux armes, journalistes!

The Economist
Mar 21st 2015

WHEN Russia was preparing to annex Crimea a year ago its television broadcasts, portraying the protesters who had recently overthrown Ukraine’s regime as a neo-Nazi rabble, softened the peninsula’s defences as effectively as any artillery assault. One month later, when Russian-backed rebels overran Donetsk, in eastern Ukraine, one of their first acts was to seize control of the television centre and replace Ukrainian broadcasts with previously banned Russian ones.

The Kremlin’s propaganda machine has been a key component of the “hybrid warfare” that Russia has waged in Ukraine, and has helped shore up Vladimir Putin’s support at home. But it spreads much further. It spills into east European countries via television services that offer viewers tasty blends of entertainment garnished with sprigs of fake news. It extends westward in the form of outfits like RT (formerly Russia Today), a Kremlin-backed news outfit which broadcasts in English, Spanish, French and German, or neatly designed supplements placed in the New York Times or Daily Telegraph. Sometimes it is smuggled directly into respectable domestic publications, as gullible or time-starved editors unknowingly reproduce Russian misinformation. Meanwhile Kremlin-backed trolls poison online discussion forums and social networks.

Countries in the front line of Moscow’s “weaponisation of information”, in the words of Peter Pomerantsev and Michael Weiss, two analysts, have long sought to draw attention to the problem. The European Union is at last listening. Heads of government, meeting in Brussels as we went to press, were expected to ask Federica Mogherini, the EU’s foreign-policy chief, to produce a plan to counter Russia’s “disinformation campaigns” by June. Before that the EU will launch a task force (working name: Mythbusters) charged with monitoring Russian media, identifying patent falsehoods and issuing corrections.

(More here.)

Us Against Them: Russia's Frightening New Cult

Maxim Shemetov / Reuters
By Gleb Kuznetsov, Moscow Times
Mar. 22 2015 18:01

If you believe that the U.S. aggressors were preparing to land in Crimea in the winter of 2014 in order to help the Ukrainians kill all the Orthodox Russians there, and that only the pre-emptive military operation under the command of President Vladimir Putin saved them, then you are "one of us" — that is, a true-blue adherent of the state's cult.

However, if you think that the United States was not planning a military operation in Crimea last year, that it did not "have its eye on" the peninsula and that NATO never did and still has no plans for it as a theater of war, then you are officially a heretic.

You are a heretic regardless of your past services, social status, annual income or membership in the ruling party. All of those are secondary to the main question: Do you believe, or do you not?

Anyone attempting to analyze Russian policy and predict its future course should understand one fundamental thing: Modern Russian policy is not rational and not based on political considerations. It is irrational and religious — with all of the attendant religious stereotypes, prejudices and dogmas.

The authorities have created a kind of "creed" right before our eyes, a set of words and concepts that allow them to easily label someone as either "loyal" or "disloyal." All political and existential concepts are now reduced to black and white and the entire spectrum of political viewpoints has become a dichotomy of "friend" or "foe" — the forces of Evil against the forces of Good.

(More here.)

Saturday, March 21, 2015

The BBC: History of the Syrian Conflict

From the BBC

More than 200,000 Syrians have lost their lives in four years of armed conflict, which began with anti-government protests before escalating into a full-scale civil war. More than 11 million others have been forced from their homes as forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and those opposed to his rule battle each other - as well as jihadist militants from Islamic State. This is the story of the civil war so far, in eight short chapters.

 1. Uprising turns violent

Pro-democracy protests erupted in March 2011 in the southern city of Deraa after the arrest and torture of some teenagers who painted revolutionary slogans on a school wall. After security forces opened fire on demonstrators, killing several, more took to the streets.

The unrest triggered nationwide protests demanding President Assad's resignation. The government's use of force to crush the dissent merely hardened the protesters' resolve. By July 2011, hundreds of thousands were taking to the streets across the country.

Opposition supporters eventually began to take up arms, first to defend themselves and later to expel security forces from their local areas.

(More here.)

Ukraine conflict: Inside Russia's 'Kremlin troll army'

Leaving comments about murdered opposition leader Boris Nemtsov was described as a "technical task"

By Olga Bugorkova BBC Monitoring

Over the past year, Russia has seen an unprecedented rise in the activity of "Kremlin trolls" - bloggers allegedly paid by the state to criticise Ukraine and the West on social media and post favourable comments about the leadership in Moscow.

Though the existence and even whereabouts of the alleged "cyber army" are no secret, recent media reports appear to have revealed some details of how one of the tools of Russian propaganda operates on an everyday basis.

"Troll den" The Internet Research Agency ("Agentstvo Internet Issledovaniya") employs at least 400 people and occupies an unremarkable office in one of the residential areas in St Petersburg.

Behind the plain facade, however, there is a Kremlin "troll den", an investigative report by independent local newspaper Moy Rayon ("My District") suggests.

The organisation, which the paper ties to Yevgeny Prigozhin, a restaurateur with close links to President Vladimir Putin who allegedly pays bloggers to produce hundreds of comments on top news websites and manage multiple accounts on Twitter, LiveJournal and other social media platforms.

(More here.)

Evidence proving that flight MH-17 was taken down by a BUK missile

 
This fragment shows part of a serial number with a broken 2 and a Cyrillic Ц from the Russian alphabet. ©Jeroen Akkermans / RTL News
© Jeroen Akkermans / RTL Nieuws

For the first time there is evidence that flight MH-17 was taken down by a missile. This is proven by a forensic investigation into ammunition fragments from debris of the airplane, ordered by RTL News. International experts endorse the conclusion of this investigation: MH-17 has been taken down by a BUK missile.

Last year correspondent Jeroen Akkermans took with him some fragments of the murder weapon from the crash site in Ukraine for investigation. The material has been examined by an independent institute that has conducted a confidential investigation.

Investigation into the chemical composition showed that they are remains from a BUK missile, among which fragments from the warhead – the pay load. The fragment of the warhead consists of a low-quality alloy of steel common to this form of ammunition. It appears from electroscopic enlargements that a fragment shows a cast-on Cyrillic serial number from the Russian language next to a partly broken number 2.

Mr Akkermans found this fragment in November of last year in a part of the hull of MH-17 near the village of Grabova in Eastern Ukraine. He was in the war zone four months after the crash to find the truth about the death of the 298 passengers and crew of flight MH-17.

(More here.)

Why Islam Needs a Reformation

To defeat the extremists for good, Muslims must reject those aspects of their tradition that prompt some believers to resort to oppression and holy war

By Ayaan Hirsi Ali, WSJ
Updated March 20, 2015 10:00 a.m. ET

“Islam’s borders are bloody,” wrote the late political scientist Samuel Huntington in 1996, “and so are its innards.” Nearly 20 years later, Huntington looks more right than ever before. According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, at least 70% of all the fatalities in armed conflicts around the world last year were in wars involving Muslims. In 2013, there were nearly 12,000 terrorist attacks world-wide. The lion’s share were in Muslim-majority countries, and many of the others were carried out by Muslims. By far the most numerous victims of Muslim violence—including executions and lynchings not captured in these statistics—are Muslims themselves.

Not all of this violence is explicitly motivated by religion, but a great deal of it is. I believe that it is foolish to insist, as Western leaders habitually do, that the violent acts committed in the name of Islam can somehow be divorced from the religion itself. For more than a decade, my message has been simple: Islam is not a religion of peace.

When I assert this, I do not mean that Islamic belief makes all Muslims violent. This is manifestly not the case: There are many millions of peaceful Muslims in the world. What I do say is that the call to violence and the justification for it are explicitly stated in the sacred texts of Islam. Moreover, this theologically sanctioned violence is there to be activated by any number of offenses, including but not limited to apostasy, adultery, blasphemy and even something as vague as threats to family honor or to the honor of Islam itself.

(Continued here.)

From Minneapolis to ISIS: An American’s Path to Jihad

Abdi Nur, right, posted a photo online from Syria. A friend, Abdullahi Yusuf, left, was stopped as he tried to depart. Top, an image of Western passports put up by a Twitter user who says she is an American with the Islamic State.

By SCOTT SHANE, NYT, MARCH 21, 2015

MINNEAPOLIS — Reading back over Abdi Nur’s Twitter feed, his chilling progression from the basketball courts of South Minneapolis to the battlefields of Syria is clear.

Early last year, he began posting stern religious pronouncements and snippets of scripture. By April 2, a day after turning 20, he hailed Islamic fighters: “If the sky would be proud of the existence of the stars, the land should be proud of the existence of the Mujahideen.”

On May 29, the day he disappeared, he posted, “I Thank Allah For Everything No Matter What!” Soon he was in Turkey, rebuffing his mother’s and sister’s anguished pleas to come home. In late July, he declared, “What A Beautiful Day in Raqqa,” the de facto capital of the Islamic State in Syria. Last Aug. 7, he posted a picture of himself online with his finger on the trigger of a Kalashnikov.

Mr. Nur had become one of a small number of Americans enticed by the apocalyptic religious promise of the self-described Islamic State, which has seized large sections of Syria and Iraq and claims to be building a caliphate.

(More here.)

Not for the Politically Correct

Shelby Steele’s Thankless Task

Blacks in America have been sold out by the very liberals who ardently claim to wish them the most good

By Joseph Epstein, WSJ
March 20, 2015 5:04 p.m. ET

‘You,’ a character in Ossie Davis’s 1961 play “Purlie Victorious” says to another, “are a disgrace to the Negro profession.” The line recurs to me whenever I see Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson making perfunctory rabble-rousing remarks in Ferguson, Mo., Madison, Wis., current-day Selma, Ala., or any other protest scene where their appearance, like Toni Morrison on a list of honorary-degree recipients, has become de rigueur. I wonder if Shelby Steele has also been called “a disgrace to the Negro profession,” and this for diametrically opposite reasons. Had he been it could only have been by people who, despite their endless cries for social justice, in one way or another have a deep emotional if not financial investment in keeping black Americans in the sad conditions in which so many of them continue to find themselves.

Shelby Steele is one of the very few writers able to tell home truths about the plight of black Americans. Telling truth to power used to be a sign of intellectual courage, but today, when the Internet has made this no great feat, what takes courage is telling truth to listeners who have grown accustomed to thinking themselves victims, have accepted the ultimately inadequate benefits of victimhood and, touchier than a fresh burn, take offense at the least criticism. Mr. Steele has taken on this thankless job with, as I suspect he would agree, less than happy results. Still, he shows no sign of letting up. In “Shame,” an essay on the political polarization of our country and on the want of progress among black Americans, he has produced his most complex and challenging work.

Shame

By Shelby Steele
Basic, 198 pages, $29.95

His authority for writing derives in part from his intellectual cogency, in part from his birth. His white mother married his black father in 1944, a time when a more radical act than miscegenation is not easily imagined. A mixed marriage in those days meant that a couple lived in black neighborhoods. Shelby Steele, born in 1946, grew up in Harvey, Ill., a predominantly working-class town just south of Chicago. He has described his biracial birth as “an absolute gift, the greatest source of insight and understanding. . . . [because] race was demystified for me. I could never see white people as just some unified group who hated blacks.” Although he doesn’t say so, being biracial has also allowed him insight into the hypocrisy of both blacks and whites on the subject of race.

(More here.)

Here is one comment to the article:

Pepper Pepper

Ridiculous. The primary objective in politics is always to divide your opponents, and splitting African Americans from the American Left has been a goal of the Right going back at least to the 1930's with J. Edgar Hoover. Parallel today with efforts like Netanyahu and Boehner splitting the Left from American Jews.

The trick of course is thought to be picking perfectly plausible fisuring points to one of the constituencies, and by stretching it and emphasizing the real area of frustration as caused by the ally, the hope is the alliance will crack apart and melt away like a block of ice.

Examples of Liberal perfidious behavior and motives throughout this review reveal their flaws as you examine them. Such as assuming the motives of the law firms interviewing Clarrence Thomas. The author and the reviewer assume they assume the high grades are tokenism, as if these firms are pure meritocracy free of racism. Despite the simpler answer American history provides. Taken as a whole, swollowing the idea that Liberal equal opportunity is the villain where as had American history instead provided rough and real competition, African Americans would have the "character" the author and reviewer seem to believe African Americans lack. Whereas in fact the alternative to Liberal efforts of good will has been before and since the Civil War systematic efforts to destroy the most meritorious, not the opportunity to excell through competition.

Although we have provided a nitche for the Shelby Steele and Clarrence Thomases of our world to exemplify the idea that the people who have been trying to crush you for lo ! how many years are really your advocates, so to pull away 20% of the advocates or give the appearance of a bias-free Supreme Court. As with the example of the efforts of Rightists like Netanyahu and Boehner, although you can see some impact on American Jewish voters, for the most part the very reason most vote Democratic remain true despite the contrived political theater like the recent speech before the Congress. So to with African Americans, appeals to the idea that the Left are a godless bunch with no care about values like Family or morality, have not worked. Because most of those deprived of any real opportunity by those of concentrated wealth an entitlement can see every day those people and that ideology are not their friend.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Trillion Dollar Fraudsters

Paul Krugman, NYT
MARCH 20, 2015

By now it’s a Republican Party tradition: Every year the party produces a budget that allegedly slashes deficits, but which turns out to contain a trillion-dollar “magic asterisk” — a line that promises huge spending cuts and/or revenue increases, but without explaining where the money is supposed to come from.

But the just-released budgets from the House and Senate majorities break new ground. Each contains not one but two trillion-dollar magic asterisks: one on spending, one on revenue. And that’s actually an understatement. If either budget were to become law, it would leave the federal government several trillion dollars deeper in debt than claimed, and that’s just in the first decade.

You might be tempted to shrug this off, since these budgets will not, in fact, become law. Or you might say that this is what all politicians do. But it isn’t. The modern G.O.P.’s raw fiscal dishonesty is something new in American politics. And that’s telling us something important about what has happened to half of our political spectrum.

So, about those budgets: both claim drastic reductions in federal spending. Some of those spending reductions are specified: There would be savage cuts in food stamps, similarly savage cuts in Medicaid over and above reversing the recent expansion, and an end to Obamacare’s health insurance subsidies. Rough estimates suggest that either plan would roughly double the number of Americans without health insurance. But both also claim more than a trillion dollars in further cuts to mandatory spending, which would almost surely have to come out of Medicare or Social Security. What form would these further cuts take? We get no hint.

(More here.)

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Israel’s Netanyahu Reopens Door to Palestinian State, but White House Is Unimpressed

By JODI RUDOREN and MICHAEL D. SHEAR, NYT
MARCH 19, 2015

JERUSALEM — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel on Thursday tried to walk back his pre-election declaration that no Palestinian state would be established on his watch, but his new assertions appeared to do nothing to assuage an infuriated Obama administration.

In an interview on MSNBC, Mr. Netanyahu also said he had not been trying to suppress the votes of Arab citizens with an Election Day video warning that they were heading to polling stations in large numbers.

Mr. Netanyahu said that he still wanted “a sustainable, peaceful two-state solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and that he had not intended to reverse the position he took endorsing that in a 2009 speech at Bar-Ilan University. “I haven’t changed my policy,” he said in the interview, his first since his resounding victory on Tuesday, which handed him a fourth term. “What has changed is the reality.”

Despite this rhetorical reversal, Mr. Netanyahu did not say he was ready to return to negotiations or present any new ideas for achieving peace. He reiterated longstanding positions that the Palestinian leadership’s refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, and its pact with the militant Islamist Hamas movement, made an agreement impossible right now.

In Netanyahu’s Next Knesset, a More Compatible Coalition

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud party achieved a surprisingly strong victory in Tuesday’s election. Now, he is likely to build a right-wing coalition of 67 of the 120 members of the Knesset, Israel’s Parliament.


(More here.)

Bibi Will Make History

Thomas L. Friedman, NYT
MARCH 18, 2015

Well, it’s pretty clear now: Benjamin Netanyahu is going to be a major figure in Israeli history — not because he’s heading to become the longest-serving Israeli prime minister, but because he’s heading to be the most impactful. Having won the Israeli elections — in part by declaring that he will never permit a two state-solution between Israelis and Palestinians — it means Netanyahu will be the father of the one-state solution. And the one-state solution means that Israel will become, in time, either a non-Jewish democracy or Jewish non-democracy.

Yes, sir, Bibi is going to make history. And the leader in the world who is most happy that Netanyahu ran on — and won on — a one-state solution is the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Oh, my goodness. They must have been doing high-fives and “Allahu akbars” all night in the ruling circles of Tehran when they saw how low Bibi sank to win. What better way to isolate Israel globally and deflect attention from Iran’s behavior?

The biggest losers in all of this, besides all the Israelis who did not vote for Netanyahu, are American Jews and non-Jews who support Israel. What Bibi did to win this election was move the Likud Party from a center-right party to a far-right one. The additional votes he got were all grabbed from the other far-right parties — not from the center. When the official government of Israel is a far-right party that rejects a two-state solution and employs anti-Arab dog whistles to get elected, it will split the basic unity of the American Jewish community on Israel. How many American Jews want to defend a one-state solution in Washington or on their college campuses? Is Aipac, the Israel lobby, now going to push for a one-state solution on Capitol Hill? How many Democrats and Republicans would endorse that?

Warning: Real trouble ahead.

You cannot win that dirty and just walk away like nothing happened. In the days before Israelis went to the polls, Netanyahu was asked by the Israeli news site, NRG, if it was true that a Palestinian state would never be formed on his watch as prime minister, Netanyahu replied, “Indeed,” adding: “Anyone who is going to establish a Palestinian state, anyone who is going to evacuate territories today, is simply giving a base for attacks to the radical Islam against Israel.”

(More here.)

Go Ahead, Ruin My Day

Thomas L. Friedman, NYT
MARCH 18, 2015

As the saying goes, “to err is human, to forgive is divine,” to which I’d add: “to ignore” is even more human, and the results rarely divine. None of us would be human if we didn’t occasionally get so wedded to our wishes that we failed to notice — or outright ignored — the facts on the ground that make a laughingstock of our hopes. Only when the gap gets too wide to ignore does policy change. This is where a lot of U.S. policy is heading these days in the Middle East. Mind the gaps — on Iran, Israel and Iraq. We’re talking about our choices in these countries with words that strike me as about 10 years out of date. Alas, we are not dealing anymore with your grandfather’s Israel, your father’s Iran or the Iraq your son or daughter went off to liberate.

Let’s start with Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud Party pretty well trounced the Labor Party leader, Isaac Herzog, in the race to form Israel’s next government. Netanyahu clearly made an impressive 11th-hour surge since the pre-election polls of last week. It is hard to know what is more depressing: that Netanyahu went for the gutter in the last few days in order to salvage his campaign — renouncing his own commitment to a two-state solution with the Palestinians and race-baiting Israeli Jews to get out and vote because, he said, too many Israeli Arabs were going to the polls — or the fact that this seemed to work.

To be sure, Netanyahu could reverse himself tomorrow. As the Yediot Ahronot columnist Nahum Barnea wrote: Netanyahu’s promises are like something “written on ice on a very hot day.” But the fact is a good half of Israel identifies with the paranoid, everyone-is-against-us, and religious-nationalist tropes Netanyahu deployed in this campaign. That, along with the fact that some 350,000 settlers are now living in the West Bank, makes it hard to see how a viable two-state solution is possible anymore no matter who would have won.

It would be wrong, though, to put all of this on Netanyahu. The insane, worthless Gaza war that Hamas initiated last summer that brought rockets to the edge of Israel’s main international airport and the Palestinians’ spurning of two-state offers of previous Israeli prime ministers (Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert) built Netanyahu’s base as much as he did.

(More here.)

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

One Year After the Annexation, a Darkness Falls Over Crimea

A campaign of censorship and intimidation targets Tatars and Ukrainians who do not endorse Kremlin control

By Mark P. Lagon And Alina Polyakova, WSJ
March 17, 2015 7:04 p.m. ET

On March 18, 2014, the Kremlin followed its illegal invasion of Crimea by officially annexing the peninsula. Crimea then faded from the headlines once Russia began its war in eastern Ukraine. That’s unfortunate because Russia is perpetrating human-rights abuses in Crimea that go underreported in the West in no small part due to the Kremlin’s efforts to hide them.

The annexation of Crimea marked the first time since the end of World War II that borders in Europe were changed by unilateral military force. President Vladimir Putin initially justified this blatant violation of Russia’s legal commitments and international law by claiming that the people of Crimea wanted to join Russia and were subject to repression by the government that took power when Ukraine’s unpopular President Viktor Yanukovych fled Kiev last February. More recently, in a forthcoming Russian TV documentary, Mr. Putin admitted ordering the annexation before a highly dubious referendum on the issue.

His claims about the desires of the citizenry and Ukraine’s repression are false. First, polls taken before the Russian invasion showed that only about 40% of Crimeans favored either independence from Kiev or joining Russia. Russian officials claimed that the “referendum” on March 16, 2014, conducted by the Kremlin and without independent international observers resulted in a 83% turnout, with 97% voting in favor of annexation. Yet the website of the President of Russia’s Council on Civil Society and Human Rights reported that turnout was only 30%-50%, with 50%-60% in favor of annexation.

(More here.)

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

‘Hands up, don’t shoot’ was built on a lie

By Jonathan Capehart March 16 at 2:07 PM WashPost

The late evening of Aug. 9, 2014, I couldn’t sleep. I was due to substitute-anchor MSNBC’s “UP with Steve Kornacki” and should have been asleep. But after looking at my Twitter feed and reading the rage under #Ferguson, I felt compelled to type a reaction to the killing of Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson. Tying the shooting to the inane whine of certain politicians about a “war on whites,” I decried the next morning the death of yet another unarmed black man at the hands of a white police officer.

In those early hours and early days, there was more unknown than known. But this month, the Justice Department released two must-read investigations connected to the killing of Brown that filled in blanks, corrected the record and brought sunlight to dark places by revealing ugly practices that institutionalized racism and hardship. They have also forced me to deal with two uncomfortable truths: Brown never surrendered with his hands up, and Wilson was justified in shooting Brown.

The report on the Ferguson police department detailed abuse and blatant trampling of the constitutional rights of people, mostly African Americans, in Ferguson. Years of mistreatment by the police, the courts and the municipal government, including evidence that all three balanced their books on the backs of the people of Ferguson, were laid bare in 102 damning pages. The overwhelming data from DOJ provided background and much-needed context for why a small St. Louis suburb most had never heard of exploded the moment Brown was killed. His death gave voice to many who suffered in silence.

The unarmed 18-year-old also became a potent symbol of the lack of trust between African Americans and law enforcement. Not just in Ferguson, but in the rest of the country. Lord knows there have been plenty of recent examples. And the militarized response to protesters by local police put an exclamation point on demonstrators’ concerns. But the other DOJ report, the one on the actual shooting of Michael Brown, shows him to be an inappropriate symbol. Through exhaustive interviews with witnesses, cross-checking their statements with previous statements to authorities and the media, ballistics, DNA evidence and results from three autopsies, the Justice Department was able to present a credible and troubling picture of what happened on Canfield Drive. More credible than the grand jury decision to not indict Wilson. The transcript of his grand jury testimony read like so much hand-holding by the prosecution.

What DOJ found made me ill. Wilson knew about the theft of the cigarillos from the convenience store and had a description of the suspects. Brown fought with the officer and tried to take his gun. And the popular hands-up storyline, which isn’t corroborated by ballistic and DNA evidence and multiple witness statements, was perpetuated by Witness 101. In fact, just about everything said to the media by Witness 101, whom we all know as Dorian Johnson, the friend with Brown that day, was not supported by the evidence and other witness statements.

Fight in the SUV
Page 6: Wilson and other witnesses stated that Brown then reached into the SUV through the open driver’s window and punched and grabbed Wilson. This is corroborated by bruising on Wilson’s jaw and scratches on his neck, the presence of Brown’s DNA on Wilson’s collar, shirt, and pants, and Wilson’s DNA on Brown’s palm. While there are other individuals who stated that Wilson reached out of the SUV and grabbed Brown by the neck, prosecutors could not credit their accounts because they were inconsistent with physical and forensic evidence, as detailed throughout this report.
(More here.)

Pointing Fingers in Apple Pay Fraud

Andrew Ross Sorkin, NYT
MARCH 16, 2015

When Apple was planning its Apple Pay electronic payment system last summer for its iPhones, the nation’s banks raced to be included among the first credit card issuers associated with the new technology.

Apple’s news release announcing Apple Pay had gushing quotes from Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase, Brian Moynihan of Bank of America and Kenneth Chenault of American Express, along with a list of other companies as launch partners, including Wells Fargo, Citigroup and Capital One.

Marianne Lake, JPMorgan’s chief financial officer, said at the time of the introduction of Apple Pay, “It’s the future, so it’s great.”

Six months later, some of the nation’s banks are privately complaining that Apple Pay may not be so great after all.

But the banks may largely have themselves to blame.

A raft of headlines over the last week about unusually high fraud rates from thieves using stolen credit numbers on Apple Pay has exposed what many of the banks privately acknowledge they have been trying to fix for months.

(More here.)

Number of political prisoners in Russia doubled

Human rights iniviative for the former USSR

List of Political Prisoners in Russia March 2015

Since June 2014, the number of political prisoners in Russia has doubled from 92 to 181, according to the Netherlands-based Human Rights Initiative for the former USSR. Furthermore, over the past four months the number has increased by almost 60%.

On March 16, 2015, the Human Rights Initiative has published the fourth edition of it’s List of Political Prisoners in Russia, containing the names of persons who have either been sentenced for political or religious reasons or are currently under criminal investigation for these reasons. A previous list, published four months ago, consisted of 114 names of such prisoners. The youngest prisoner was born in 1995; the oldest in 1937. Among the prisoners are 20 women.

The main part of the current group of political prisoners consists of persons who were arrested for voicing their oppositional views. Among the political prisoners are a growing number of foreigners, mainly Ukrainian activists from the annexed Crimea who were arrested for actions opposing the annexation of the Crimea or in defense of Crimean Tatars. Among the foreigners are also the Estonian counter-intelligence officer Eston Kohver, who was kidnapped from Estonian territory, and the Ukrainian pilot Nadezhda Savchenko, who recently partially ended her hunger strike after 83 days and is held in a Moscow prison.

The Human Rights Initiative for the former USSR calls on Western governments to resume the practice of confronting Russian authorities with the List of Political Prisoners during meetings on all levels, a practice that was common in Soviet times and helped to secure the release of many political prisoners.

(More here.)

Monday, March 16, 2015

Fossil Fuels With $550 Billion Subsidies Hurt Renewables

Nov. 12 (Bloomberg) -- Fossil fuels are reaping $550 billion a year in subsidies and holding back investment in cleaner forms of energy, the International Energy Agency said.

Oil, coal and gas received more than four times the $120 billion paid out in incentives for renewables including wind, solar and biofuels, the Paris-based institution said today in its annual World Energy Outlook.

The findings highlight the policy shift needed to limit global warming, which the IEA said is on track to increase the world’s temperature by 3.6 degrees Celsius by the end of this century. That level would increase the risks of damaging storms, droughts and rising sea levels.

“The huge subsidies fossil fuels enjoy worldwide gives incentives to their consumption, which means that I’m paying you to pollute the world and use energy inefficiently,” Fatih Birol, chief economist at the IEA, said at a news conference in London today.

Renewable use in electricity generation is on the rise and will account for almost half the global increase in generation by 2040, according to the report. It said about 7,200 gigawatts of generating capacity needs to be built in that period to keep pace with rising demand and replace aging power stations.

(More here.)

A Christian Nation? Since When?

By KEVIN M. KRUSE, NYT, MARCH 14, 2015

AMERICA may be a nation of believers, but when it comes to this country’s identity as a “Christian nation,” our beliefs are all over the map.

Just a few weeks ago, Public Policy Polling reported that 57 percent of Republicans favored officially making the United States a Christian nation. But in 2007, a survey by the First Amendment Center showed that 55 percent of Americans believed it already was one.

The confusion is understandable. For all our talk about separation of church and state, religious language has been written into our political culture in countless ways. It is inscribed in our pledge of patriotism, marked on our money, carved into the walls of our courts and our Capitol. Perhaps because it is everywhere, we assume it has been from the beginning.

But the founding fathers didn’t create the ceremonies and slogans that come to mind when we consider whether this is a Christian nation. Our grandfathers did.

(More here.)

The melting of Antarctica was already really bad. It just got worse.

By Chris Mooney March 16 at 12:17 PM WashPost

A hundred years from now, humans may remember 2014 as the year that we first learned that we may have irreversibly destabilized the great ice sheet of West Antarctica, and thus set in motion more than 10 feet of sea level rise.

Meanwhile, 2015 could be the year of the double whammy — when we learned the same about one gigantic glacier of East Antarctica, which could set in motion roughly the same amount all over again. Northern Hemisphere residents and Americans in particular should take note — when the bottom of the world loses vast amounts of ice, those of us living closer to its top get more sea level rise than the rest of the planet, thanks to the law of gravity.

(More here.)

Putin on the blitz (with apologies to Irving Berlin)

Putin was surprised at how easily Russia took control of Crimea

By Michael Birnbaum March 15 at 6:09 PM WashPost

MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin personally directed his nation’s capture of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, he said in a documentary aired Sunday, in which he offered details of his deep involvement in last year’s quick and effective takeover.

Putin said that Russia had flooded the Black Sea peninsula with special forces officers in the days after President Viktor Yanukovych fled Kiev in February 2014, and Putin said that the success of the precision operation surprised even him. With Kiev in chaos, Putin said, he was ready at the time to put Russia’s nuclear forces on alert.

The more than two-hour-long documentary, called “Crimea: Path to the Homeland,” offered new details about Putin’s actions between Yanukovych’s late-night escape from Ukraine’s capital on Feb. 21, 2014, and Russia’s annexation of Crimea less than four weeks later. Russia is planning celebrations this week to mark the March 18 anniversary of the annexation, and the lavishly financed film was a kickoff.

Putin’s account gave fresh insight into a fast-moving military operation that caught both Ukraine and its Western allies off-guard. Last year, Putin initially denied that Russia had anything to do with the armed men who wore no identifying insignia as they seized key Crimean infrastructure in the days after Yanukovych was deposed. Putin later said they were special forces units — and even created a holiday in their honor.

(More here.)

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Scott Walker’s Wisconsin Falls To 49th In Economic Outlook

National Memo, June 10, 2013 8:43 am

Governor Scott Walker (R-WI) is a conservative hero with a record of taking progressives and unions in a state that went for Obama and beating them twice. He’s cut government, taken away worker protections, supported government-mandated ultrasounds and empowered the private sector, making him the Republican insiders’ favorite for the 2016 GOP nomination.

His only problem is, his economic policies continue to fail — miserably.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia has ranked the Badger State 49th in its 50-state Leading Index report for April. With an index rank of -0.74 percent, Wisconsin was one of only five states to show contraction.

Experts do not read much into one month’s data. This index — which factors in average manufacturing hours, unemployment, wage trends and building permits — often shows a wide margin of error. The state has been especially rocked by the national decline in manufacturing.

However, Walker doesn’t really have any positive economic data to point to. Since he took office, his state has fallen from 11th to 44th in job creation. Wisconsin’s wages are also declining at twice the national level.

Walker’s new budget — which reads more like a campaign document than a plan to create jobs — offers a tax cut that mostly benefits the rich and sucks public funds into private ventures, in the form of school vouchers.

(More here.)

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Talking to Republicans about 'that which should not be named,' at least in Florida

A Reagan approach to climate change

By George P. Shultz March 13, WashPost

George P. Shultz was secretary of state from 1982 to 1989.

The trend of disappearing summer sea ice in the Arctic is clear even though there is always some variability from year to year. Severe winter weather underscores the importance of keeping track of significant trends. Here are the numbers, according to Julienne Stroeve, of the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colo., as reported in the Economist in February:

“Between 1953 and 2014, the average area of the Arctic sea ice shrank by 48,000 square kilometers a year.”

“Between 1979 and 2014, it shrank by 87,000 square kilometers a year.”

“Between 1996 and 2014, the rate rose to 148,000 square kilometers.”

The accelerating rate is explained in part by the fact that ice reflects sunlight but water, which is darker, absorbs it. So as water replaces ice, more heat is retained. Heat transported from lower latitudes could also be part of the explanation.

The picture in Greenland is more complicated, but it is important in the long run. Arctic ice is already in the water, so melting there won’t make much of an impact on sea levels. Greenland, though, is home to the world’s second-largest land ice mass. Two satellites measure annual melting in Greenland; over the past two decades its net ice loss has been about 140 billion tons per year, and that rate has almost doubled in more recent years. The story is similar in West Antarctica, where surface geography makes it easier for large segments of its ice sheet to slide into a warming ocean. Altogether, we can observe that sea levels are now rising about 3 millimeters per year. We can also observe that the last time the earth warmed by a few degrees — 120,000 years ago — sea levels were at least 5 meters higher than today.

(More here.)

The Demonic Wellspring

Unlike al Qaeda, which offers victory in some remote era, ISIS, in occupying territory and declaring the caliphate, invites its followers to live in the prophesied paradise now.

By James Traub, WSJ
Updated March 14, 2015 12:09 a.m. ET

ISIS is scaring the daylights out of us. Al Qaeda announced itself to the world with an unspeakable bang but over time retreated (and regrouped) in the face of drone attacks and heightened surveillance and law-enforcement efforts. Islamic State, as it now wishes to be called, seems only to proliferate, like a lethal virus that has escaped from the lab and begun madly self-replicating. Already established across a chunk of Iraq and Syria equal in size to Great Britain, it has begun to colonize Libya, almost a thousand miles away, and perhaps also the Sinai, Afghanistan and Yemen. Kurdish soldiers and American pilots are killing hundreds or thousands of ISIS warriors, but still more thousands stream across the Turkish border to die a glorious death. ISIS seems to be nourished from a demonic wellspring.

(More here.)