Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Chinese hackers steal Israel’s Iron Dome missile data

Hacking group previously linked to hacks on US defence contractors steals detailed missile schematics
A Chinese hacking group has been accused of stealing data from Israel’s billion-dollar Iron Dome missile system.

The state-sponsored Comment Crew hacking group, thought to operate out of China, was responsible for attacks from 2011 onwards on three Israeli defence technology companies Elisra Group, Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and Rafael Advanced Defense Systems (Rads) all involved with the Iron Dome project.

The Iron Dome is Israel’s advanced anti-missile defence system – part funded to the tune of $1bn by the US government. It fires missiles to intercept rockets and artillery shells fired from between 2.5 miles and 43 miles away into populated areas, commonly described as a missile shield.

The revelation comes as cyber attacks against Israel have intensified during its current conflict with Palestine, including recent attacks defacing Israel Railways and hospital websites and denial of service attacks which slow Israeli’s internet connections, according to Dina Beer, managing director of the Israeli Internet Association, talking to Bloomberg.

(More here.)

Moscow may walk out of nuclear treaty after US accusations of breach

Russia said to be on point of leaving 1987 treaty, after Obama administration said it violated the accord with tests of R-500
Russia may be on the point of walking out of a major cold war era arms-control treaty, Russian analysts have said, after President Obama accused Moscow of violating the accord by testing a cruise missile.

There has been evidence at least since 2011 of Russian missile tests in violation of the 1987 intermediate range nuclear forces (INF) treaty, which banned US or Russian ground-launched cruise missiles with a 500 to 5,500-mile (805 to 8,851km) range. But the Obama administration has been hesitant until now of accusing Moscow of a violation in the hope that it could persuade Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, to stop the tests or at least not deploy the weapon in question, known as the Iskander, or R-500.

Washington has also been reticent because of the technical differences in definition of what constitutes the range of a missile under the INF treaty. That ambiguity now seems to have dropped away. According to Pavel Felgenhauer, a defence analyst and columnist for the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, Russia has indeed broken the treaty by testing the R-500 which has a range of more than 1,000km.

"Of course, this is in gross violation of the 1987 treaty, but Russian officials including Putin have said this treaty is unfair and not suitable for Russia," Felgenhauer said. "The United States doesn't have [medium-range missiles] but other countries do have them, such as China, Pakistan and Israel, so they say this is unfair and wrong."

(More here.)

When Middle East Conflicts Become One

No War Is an Island


It’s amazing how much of the discussion of the Gaza war is based on the supposition that it is still 1979. It’s based on the supposition that the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is a self-contained struggle being run by the two parties most directly involved. It’s based on the supposition that the horror could be ended if only deft negotiators could achieve a “breakthrough” and a path toward a two-state agreement.
But it is not 1979. People’s mental categories may be stuck in the past, but reality has moved on. The violence between Israel and Hamas, which controls Gaza, may look superficially like past campaigns, but the surrounding context is transformed.
What’s happened, of course, is that the Middle East has begun what Richard Haass of the Council on Foreign Relations has called its 30 Years’ War — an overlapping series of clashes and proxy wars that could go on for decades and transform identities, maps and the political contours of the region.
The Sunni-Shiite rivalry is at full boil. Torn by sectarian violence, the nation of Iraq no longer exists in its old form. 

(More here.)

The Injustice of Marijuana Arrests

America’s four-decade war on drugs is responsible for many casualties, but the criminalization of marijuana has been perhaps the most destructive part of that war. The toll can be measured in dollars — billions of which are thrown away each year in the aggressive enforcement of pointless laws. It can be measured in years — whether wasted behind bars or stolen from a child who grows up fatherless. And it can be measured in lives — those damaged if not destroyed by the shockingly harsh consequences that can follow even the most minor offenses.
In October 2010, Bernard Noble, a 45-year-old trucker and father of seven with two previous nonviolent offenses, was stopped on a New Orleans street with a small amount of marijuana in his pocket. His sentence: more than 13 years.
At least he will be released. Jeff Mizanskey, a Missouri man, was arrested in December 1993, for participating (unknowingly, he said) in the purchase of a five-pound brick of marijuana. Because he had two prior nonviolent marijuana convictions, he was sentenced to life without parole.
Outrageously long sentences are only part of the story. The hundreds of thousands of people who are arrested each year but do not go to jail also suffer; their arrests stay on their records for years, crippling their prospects for jobs, loans, housing and benefits. These are disproportionately people of color, with marijuana criminalization hitting black communities the hardest.

(More here.)

Georgia Democrat’s Senate Campaign Plan, Not Meant for Public Eyes, Is Published


ATLANTA — Less than one week after Republicans selected their nominee for a United States Senate race in Georgia, the campaign of the Democratic candidate, Michelle Nunn, was jolted on Monday by the publication of an internal document that charted plans for a contest that is expected to be one of the country’s most competitive and one of the few where Democrats have any realistic chance of retaking a Republican-held seat.
The document, labeled “The Campaign Plan” and distributed to Ms. Nunn and key supporters last year, includes standard plans for the campaign to coordinate with other Georgia Democrats, sketches out timetables for contacting voters and sets out a schedule for opposition research. But it also lists potential political liabilities in a way the Nunn campaign surely did not expect to become public, saying that Ms. Nunn might be attacked as a “lightweight,” “too liberal” and “not a ‘real’ Georgian,” and laying out strategies to respond to criticisms of her biography and record.
The presentation, which was published on the website of National Review, is candid in its assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of Ms. Nunn, who is seeking public office for the first time, and her campaign.

(More here.)

The crucifixion of a 3-year old, the U.S. helped Kiev shoot down Flight 17, and other tales the Kremlin media tell.

Putin's Ukraine Unreality Show

July 28, 2014 7:33 p.m. ET
 
On July 12 Russia's main state television channel, Channel One, interviewed a Ukrainian woman with a heart-wrenching story. The woman said she had witnessed the public execution of a 3-year-old boy, who was crucified in the crowded main square of Slovyansk in eastern Ukraine. The town had been a rebel stronghold but was retaken by the Ukrainian army a week earlier—and that's when the execution took place, the woman said. Viewers of the prime-time news program were told that the Ukrainian "animals"—descendants of the fascist collaborators during World War II—cut the little boy's flesh and made him suffer for an hour before he died. The woman added that the boy's mother was then tied to a tank and dragged until she too was dead.

The Russian correspondent shook her head compassionately. "Are you not afraid to tell us this story?" she asked the woman three times, without trying to verify the facts. 

Just as well—there weren't any facts. The story was fake. As fake as the stories reported in Russia about the Ukrainian fascists who staged a coup in Kiev in February and then attacked the Russian-speaking southeastern Ukraine. As fake as some of the supposedly indigenous separatist leaders. The rebels' self-styled defense chief, Igor Girkin (aka Strelkov, or "shooter"), for instance, is a former or maybe even current Russian security-services officer with a passion for theatrical re-enactments of battles in the post-1917 civil war.

The narrative of the civil war in Ukraine was scripted in Moscow and executed by state television channels that have substituted reality with fiction. The consequence of this fiction is the spilling of real blood and death, including the deaths of the 298 people on board Malaysia Airlines 3786.KU -2.22% Flight 17. 

Goldie Taylor Reveals The True Danger Of Stephen A. Smith's Comments

The Huffington Post  |  By
  Posted:   |  Updated: 07/28/2014 4:59 pm EDT
ESPN panelist Stephen A. Smith has been roundly panned for his comments on domestic violence, in which he suggested women should do what they can not to "provoke" their partners into abusing them.

On Monday, Smith apologized for his comments, but MSNBC pundit Goldie Taylor wasn't about to let him off the hook.

In a series of tweets, the journalist explained exactly why his comments were so dangerous. She opened up about her own experience being stabbed by an abusive partner, and revealed the victim-blaming she suffered -- even from her own family.

On top of the physical abuse, Taylor was also financially abused by her partner. According to her testimony, he made her turn over her paycheck each week and would not allow her to have a credit card, a common tactic used by abusers to control and isolate their victims.

Here are a selection of Taylor's tweets; visit her twitter feed to read the entire conversation.

(More here.)

When Cell Door Opens, Tough Tactics and Risk


NASHVILLE — The August night was hot, but Charles Jason Toll wrapped himself in a coat and covered his mouth to protect against the electrical shocks and gas he thought might come his way.
Outside the door of his solitary confinement cell at Riverbend Maximum Security Institution here, five corrections officers in riot gear lined up, tensely awaiting the order to go in. When it came, they rushed into the small enclosure, pushing Mr. Toll to the floor and pinning him down with an electrified shield while they handcuffed him and shackled his legs.
Mr. Toll, 33, a heavyset man who suffered from diabetes and mental illness, said, “I can’t breathe” — a complaint he would repeat, with increasing urgency, at least 12 times that night.
“You’re not going to be able to breathe,” an officer, Capt. James Horton, can be heard telling him on a prison video. And then, “You wanted this.”
The officers carried him, face down, to a dark outdoor recreation yard to search him. A short while later, Mr. Toll was dead.

(More here.)

Monday, July 28, 2014

Setbacks Complicate Putin's Ukraine Strategy

Pro-Russia Rebels Suffer Setbacks as West Readies Tougher Sanctions; Kremlin Prepares for Deeper International Isolation

Updated July 28, 2014 7:32 p.m. ET

Pro-Russia rebels in eastern Ukraine saw some of their worst battlefield setbacks in weeks Monday as the West agreed on tougher sanctions aimed at forcing Moscow to cut support for the militias—posing fresh challenges on two fronts for Russian President Vladimir Putin

Ukrainian forces were advancing from the north and south in an effort to cut off Donetsk, one of two remaining separatist strongholds, from fellow rebels in the other, Luhansk, as well as their supply lines to the Russian border, officials on both sides of the fighting said.

At the same time, the U.S. and Europe said they would adopt the harshest economic sanctions yet on the Kremlin this week. The European Union—Russia's largest trading partner—is expected to move as early as Tuesday to restrict transactions with Russia's state banks, as well as limit technology exports vital for the country's oil and weapons industries. The U.S. has vowed to follow suit.

In the past, every time such sectoral sanctions were threatened, the Kremlin managed to head them off with moves that appeared to signal de-escalation of the conflict. In reality, those moves "were only meant to buy time," a European official said. "Now, they are no longer trying to buy time." 


Why Conspiracy Theories Take Hold in Russia

Elliot Borenstein, HuffPost, Posted: 07/28/2014 10:23 am

All it takes is an hour or two of Russian state television to learn that someone is plotting against Russia. Watch for a few more hours, and you'll find that everyone is plotting against Russia. Watch for a few more days, and the truth comes out: Russia is plotting against Russia.

Thanks to the increasingly baroque explanations of "what really happened" to Flight MH17, the Western media have turned their attention to a feature of post-Soviet Russia that is all too familiar to those of us who've been paying attention: Russia has become a world leader in the production of conspiracy theories.

Until now, Russian conspiracy theories have been for domestic consumption (no network of pipelines exports them to Europe and beyond). This is to be expected; while that tsarist forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion continues to be a world-wide hit, Russia's more recent forays into paranoid fear-mongering (centered on post-Soviet Georgia and Ukraine) are a tough sell on the global market. Conspiracies, like riddles, depend on the audience's familiarity with the objects in question. People who haven't even heard of alien abductions can't be expected to obsess over anal probes.

But now, Russian conspiracy is ready for prime time, or at least for late night. The New Republic's Julia Ioffe gave a delightful synthesis of Russian MH17 counternarratives when she appeared on The Colbert Report. MH17, it turns out, is actually the original missing Malaysian airliner, which had been captured by the Americans, spirited away to the Netherlands, filled up with corpses, and then flown out over Donetsk, whereupon the pilots parachuted to safety before the on-board explosives brought the plane down. To Colbert's audience, this sounded less like a theory than like a punchline, Ioffe's gracious gift to her famously funny host.

(More here.)

The Republican Move to Sue Obama

The Fight Over ‘Impeachment Lite’

Charles M. Blow, NYT
JULY 27, 2014

Rather than getting on with the country’s business and focusing solely on can’t-wait issues before they jet out of town this weekend — like the unfinished bill to fix veterans’ health care and the stalled bill to deal with the humanitarian crisis of Central American children arriving at the border — House Republicans are gearing up for a grand maneuver: an apparently unprecedented move by the House to sue the president over his use of executive orders.

Talk about misplaced priorities.

But this isn’t about the public’s priorities, not even close. This is about base-voter activation; this is about midterm turnout. The president’s most ardent opposition wants more punishing actions taken. There is an insatiable vengeance-lust for the haughty president who refuses to bend under pressure or fold under duress.

He must be brought to heel. He must be chastened. He must be broken. So, House Republicans are throwing the red meat into the cage.

Even Paul Ryan, fresh off his “Opportunity Grant” move to address poverty in this country — a plan that the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said “would likely increase poverty and hardship” rather than decrease it — said Friday that he would vote for the measure to sue the president.

(More here.)

U.S. releases images purporting to show that Russia fired over border

This image purports to show the before and after of an artillery strike. (AP)
By Carol Morello and Karen DeYoung July 27 at 11:54 PM , WashPost

KIEV, Ukraine — Rebels and government troops fired on each other’s positions Sunday in a strategically important city in eastern Ukraine, sending residents into bomb shelters, as Washington released images that it said prove Russia is shooting across the border into Ukraine to support separatists.

At least 13 civilians were reported killed in the fighting around Horlivka, an industrial city of almost 300,000 people about 30 miles from the rebel bastion of Donetsk. According to a resident reached by telephone, parts of the city are without water or electricity, grocery stores are empty, and rebels and residents are fleeing.

The Ukrainian military denied targeting civilians and said the pro-Russian rebels were to blame for the damage and casualties. The military accused the rebels of firing into residential neighborhoods.

The battle in Horlivka is part of a major push by the military to isolate and eventually oust the rebel fighters from the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic. It would be a huge symbolic and strategic victory.

(More here.)

Still Torn by Factional Fighting, Post-Revolt Libya Is Coming Undone

By KAREEM FAHIM, NYT
JULY 27, 2014

CAIRO — For weeks, rival Libyan militias had been pounding one another’s positions with artillery, mortar rounds and rockets in a desperate fight to control the international airport in the capital, Tripoli. Then suddenly, early Saturday morning, the fighting just stopped.

The pause came as United States military warplanes circled overhead, providing air cover for a predawn evacuation of the American Embassy’s staff. Apparently fearing the planes, the militias held their fire just long enough for the ambassador and her staff to reach the Tunisian border — a reminder to Libyans of how even their most powerful allies were incapable of putting out their incendiary feuds.

American officials said the evacuation was a temporary measure after fighting drew too close to the embassy. But, coming so soon after the withdrawal of other diplomatic missions, including the United Nations, the moment appeared to signal a defeat — for Libyans who had convinced themselves that the country would band together to save the revolution, and for the country’s Western allies, who sometimes acted as if Libya’s stability would take care of itself.

“No one in Libya can win,” said Mahmoud Okok, 33, a civil engineer who lived near the airport and the United States Embassy, and who abandoned his apartment because of the shelling. A cousin who also lived near the airport was killed when a rocket landed on his home. Now Mr. Okok was moving, with his wife and young son, overseas.

(More here.)

Let Sunnis Defeat Iraq’s Militants

By RAFE AL-ESSAWI and ATHEEL al-NUJAIFI, NYT, JULY 27, 2014

ERBIL, Iraq

THE situation in Iraq today is perilous, particularly for Sunni Muslim Arabs. Their prospects for inclusion in Iraq’s government and fair treatment from it have been declining since 2010, when Iraqiyya, the nonsectarian coalition to which we belonged, drew more votes than any other parliamentary bloc but was denied a chance to form a government. We might not have succeeded, but letting us try would have built public trust in democracy.

Instead, Iran and the United States used their influence to insist that Nuri Kamal al-Maliki remain prime minister. A sectarian-minded Shiite Muslim with authoritarian tendencies, he also pressured Iraq’s judiciary to decide in his favor. Since then, Mr. Maliki has detained thousands of Sunnis without trial; pushed leading Sunnis out of the political arena by accusing them of terrorism; stopped paying members of the Sunni Awakening, the movement that fought Al Qaeda in Iraq in 2007; and labeled all Sunnis as terrorists.

A request by provincial councils in Salahuddin, Diyala and Nineveh to hold votes on how to reorganize as more autonomous regions — as the Constitution allows — was rejected, and for a year peaceful Sunni protests were met by violence. As Iraqi security forces killed dozens of unarmed protesters, Mr. Maliki again bent the judiciary to his will, leaving Sunnis to feel they could not receive justice.

Now the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria has burst onto the stage well organized and funded: In Falluja early this year, then Mosul last month, it seized territory, claiming to defend Sunnis against Mr. Maliki’s Iranian-backed government.

(More here.)

Fear of Ebola Breeds a Terror of Physicians

By ADAM NOSSITER, NYT
JULY 27, 2014

KOLO BENGOU, Guinea — Eight youths, some armed with slingshots and machetes, stood warily alongside a rutted dirt road at an opening in the high reeds, the path to the village of Kolo Bengou. The deadly Ebola virus is believed to have infected several people in the village, and the youths were blocking the path to prevent health workers from entering.

“We don’t want any visitors,” said their leader, Faya Iroundouno, 17, president of Kolo Bengou’s youth league. “We don’t want any contact with anyone.” The others nodded in agreement and fiddled with their slingshots.

Singling out the international aid group Doctors Without Borders, Mr. Iroundouno continued, “Wherever those people have passed, the communities have been hit by illness.”

Health workers here say they are now battling two enemies: the unprecedented Ebola epidemic, which has killed more than 660 people in four countries since it was first detected in March, and fear, which has produced growing hostility toward outside help. On Friday alone, health authorities in Guinea confirmed 14 new cases of the disease.

(More here.)

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Tax Avoidance du Jour: Inversion

Corporate Artful Dodgers

Paul Krugman, NYT
JULY 27, 2014

In recent decisions, the conservative majority on the Supreme Court has made clear its view that corporations are people, with all the attendant rights. They are entitled to free speech, which in their case means spending lots of money to bend the political process to their ends. They are entitled to religious beliefs, including those that mean denying benefits to their workers. Up next, the right to bear arms?

There is, however, one big difference between corporate persons and the likes of you and me: On current trends, we’re heading toward a world in which only the human people pay taxes.

We’re not quite there yet: The federal government still gets a tenth of its revenue from corporate profits taxation. But it used to get a lot more — a third of revenue came from profits taxes in the early 1950s, a quarter or more well into the 1960s. Part of the decline since then reflects a fall in the tax rate, but mainly it reflects ever-more-aggressive corporate tax avoidance — avoidance that politicians have done little to prevent.

Which brings us to the tax-avoidance strategy du jour: “inversion.” This refers to a legal maneuver in which a company declares that its U.S. operations are owned by its foreign subsidiary, not the other way around, and uses this role reversal to shift reported profits out of American jurisdiction to someplace with a lower tax rate.

(More here.)

Who Bears More Responsibility for the War in Gaza?

By John B. Judis, TNR

Like almost all conflicts that have occurred in Israel, this latest war in Gaza has provoked a furious debate. Was Israel’s ground and air assault on the Gaza Strip justified by Hamas’s rocket attacks? Or were Hamas’s rocket attacks a justifiable response to Israel’s arrest of hundreds of Hamas supporters and officials? I am not going to defend Hamas’s charter, which describes Israel and the occupied territories as an “Islamic Waqf,” nor its strategy of hurling rockets at Israel, but I am also not going to defend Israel’s response. What matters to me, and what is often ignored, is the overall moral and political context in which this and past conflicts have occurred.

Israel is one of the world’s last colonial powers, and the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are its unruly subjects. Like many past anti-colonial movements, Hamas and Fatah are deeply flawed and have sometimes poorly represented their peoples, and sometimes unnecessarily provoked the Israelis and used tactics that violate the rules of war. But the Israeli government has continued to expand settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and to rule harshly over its subjects, while maintaining a ruinous blockade on Gaza. That’s the historical backdrop to the events now taking place.

The Occupation

Israel’s founding in 1948 began to address the terrible wrongs that Europe’s Jews had suffered. It provided a state and what seemed like a safe haven. But Palestine’s Arabs, who had made up the overwhelming majority of the region, and who believed after the promises of World War I that they would gain their own state, came instead under Jordanian and Egyptian rule after Israel won its independence. And after the Six-Day War in 1967, Israel annexed Jerusalem, occupied the West Bank and Gaza, and turned the Palestinians who lived there into colonial subjects. The Israeli government encouraged and subsidized Jewish settlements in the territories in violation of the fourth Geneva Convention that prohibits an occupying power from transferring its population into the territories it has seized.

(More here.)

No Time to Think

By KATE MURPHY, NYT, JULY 25, 2014

ONE of the biggest complaints in modern society is being overscheduled, overcommitted and overextended. Ask people at a social gathering how they are and the stock answer is “super busy,” “crazy busy” or “insanely busy.” Nobody is just “fine” anymore.

When people aren’t super busy at work, they are crazy busy exercising, entertaining or taking their kids to Chinese lessons. Or maybe they are insanely busy playing fantasy football, tracing their genealogy or churning their own butter.

And if there is ever a still moment for reflective thought — say, while waiting in line at the grocery store or sitting in traffic — out comes the mobile device. So it’s worth noting a study published last month in the journal Science, which shows how far people will go to avoid introspection.

“We had noted how wedded to our devices we all seem to be and that people seem to find any excuse they can to keep busy,” said Timothy Wilson, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia and lead author of the study. “No one had done a simple study letting people go off on their own and think.”

The results surprised him and have created a stir in the psychology and neuroscience communities. In 11 experiments involving more than 700 people, the majority of participants reported that they found it unpleasant to be alone in a room with their thoughts for just 6 to 15 minutes.

(More here.)

The boggle threshold

Where Reason Ends and Faith Begins

T.M. Luhrman, NYT
JULY 26, 2014

STANFORD, Calif. — NOT long ago, I was at an event in which many people, most of them professors, were arguing for the existence of things that many of their colleagues did not believe in. Someone gave a talk in which he explained that he knew that U.F.O.s existed even though all the best evidence for them turned out to be false. Others spoke sympathetically about shamanic healing, reincarnation and near-death visions. But then a woman described her research on what it was like to be dead, which she had based on reports from mediums who claimed to have had the dead speak through them. She cited, as evidence of the benevolence in the afterlife, an Anglican priest, Msgr. Robert Hugh Benson, who wrote a book attacking spiritualism while alive but who, she said, recanted the book after his death in 1914. The group stared at her in disbelief. This, they felt, was flabby-minded.

In a delightful account of the British Society for Psychical Research (a remarkable group in its turn of-the-last-century heyday, and whose presidents have included William James, Nobel laureates and fellows of the Royal Society), Renée Haynes, a writer and historian who died in 1994, introduced the concept of the “boggle threshold”: “the level above which the mind boggles when faced with some new fact or report or idea.” Haynes herself was fine, she wrote, with telepathy; hesitant about reincarnation; but appalled that a woman had flown across the Atlantic to have her torn “aura” repaired by a guru expert in invisible mending.

We all have these boggle lines. Praying in an ancient language you don’t understand is fine; praying in tongues (not a human language, but thought to be a spiritual one) anathema. A god who has a human son whom he allows to be killed is natural; a god with eight arms and a lusty sexual appetite is weird. You believe in the Holy Spirit, but you draw the line at exorcism. You take for granted that Christ will come again to earth, but riding on a white horse and wearing a robe dipped in blood? That’s obviously a prophet’s besotted fantasy.

(More here.)

In Israel and Gaza, extremism run amok

Aflame

By David Remnick, New Yorker

Because memory, particularly historical memory, fails unfailingly, this summer feels like a uniquely horrific season of dissolution and blood. “You name it, the world is aflame,” Gary Samore, a former national-security aide in the Obama Administration, told Peter Baker, of the Times, the other day. “We always have a mix of complicated interests. That’s not unusual. What’s unusual is there’s this outbreak of violence and instability everywhere.”

The supposed tranquillity of earlier seasons is almost always an artifact of distance. And yet Samore’s “everywhere” is forgivable hyperbole. In eastern Ukraine, where hundreds of corpses, and a dozen or so planes, lay shattered in fields of wheat and sunflowers, Russian President Vladimir Putin has made clear his intention to base his legitimacy at home on defiance abroad. In Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa, President Goodluck Jonathan’s government appears powerless to stop Boko Haram, which has kidnapped hundreds of girls to demonstrate its pious opposition to the values of secularism and education. The men of ISIS, a radical Islamic force with origins in Al Qaeda, have planted their black flag over swaths of eastern Syria and northwestern Iraq. Earlier this year, when President Obama was asked how he could claim that Al Qaeda had been “decimated” when jihadi flags were now aloft in Falluja, he resorted to a blithe formulation. “The analogy we use around here sometimes, and I think is accurate, is if a jayvee team puts on Lakers uniforms that doesn’t make them Kobe Bryant,” the President told this magazine. The tone at the White House is no longer quite so unalarmed.

(More here.)

Taliban Making Military Gains in Afghanistan

By AZAM AHMED, NYT
JULY 26, 2014

MAHMUD RAQI, Afghanistan — Taliban fighters are scoring early gains in several strategic areas near the capital this summer, inflicting heavy casualties and casting new doubt on the ability of Afghan forces to contain the insurgency as the United States moves to complete its withdrawal of combat troops, according to Afghan officials and local elders.

The Taliban have found success beyond their traditional strongholds in the rural south and are now dominating territory near crucial highways and cities that surround Kabul, the capital, in strategic provinces like Kapisa and Nangarhar.

Their advance has gone unreported because most American forces have left the field and officials in Kabul have largely refused to talk about it. The Afghan ministries have not released casualty statistics since an alarming rise in army and police deaths last year.

At a time when an election crisis is threatening the stability of the government, the Taliban’s increasingly aggressive campaign is threatening another crucial facet of the American withdrawal plan, full security by Afghan forces this year.

(More here.)

Pentagon Plan Would Help Ukraine Target Rebel Missiles

By DAVID E. SANGER and ERIC SCHMITT, NYT
JULY 26, 2014

The Pentagon and American intelligence agencies are developing plans that would enable the Obama administration to provide specific locations of surface-to-air missiles controlled by Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine so the Ukrainian government could target them for destruction, American officials said.

But the proposal has not yet been debated in the White House, a senior administration official said. It is unclear whether President Obama, who has already approved limited intelligence sharing with Ukraine, will agree to give more precise information about potential military targets, a step that would involve the United States more deeply in the conflict.

Already, the question of what kind of intelligence support to give the Ukrainian government has become part of a larger debate within the administration about how directly to confront President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and how big a role Washington should take in trying to stop Russia’s rapid delivery of powerful weapons to eastern Ukraine.

At the core of the debate, said several officials — who, like others interviewed, spoke on the condition of anonymity because the policy deliberations are still in progress — is whether the American goal should be simply to shore up a Ukrainian government reeling from the separatist attacks, or to send a stern message to Mr. Putin by aggressively helping Ukraine target the missiles Russia has provided. Those missiles have taken down at least five aircraft in the past 10 days, including Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.

(More here.)

The Public Lightens Up About Weed

By JULIET LAPIDOS, NYT, JULY 26, 2014

When Bill Clinton ran for president in 1992, he admitted that he had “experimented with marijuana,” but said he “didn’t like it,” “didn’t inhale it” and “never tried it again.” Whatever the accuracy of that statement, he was accused of pandering to the marijuana-wary voting public.

Flash forward to the early stages of the 2008 presidential campaign. At an event in Iowa, then-candidate Barack Obama disclosed that he had not only smoked marijuana as a young man, but inhaled it, too. “That was the point,” he said. The public responded with a shrug.

Between the two campaigns, Americans had loosened up considerably. By the time Mr. Obama was wooing voters in Iowa, Nancy Reagan’s “just say no” slogan was a relic of a fustier era, and “Weeds,” a comedy about a widowed mother who sells marijuana to support her family, was on TV. Few people remembered Judge Douglas Ginsburg, who in 1987 had to withdraw from consideration as a Supreme Court justice after admitting that he had used marijuana while a professor at Harvard Law School.

Seventy-eight percent of Americans thought marijuana should be illegal in 1991. That figure fell to 57 percent in 2008, according to the Pew Research Center. In 2013, for the first time in over four decades of polling on the issue, prohibition was a minority position. Fifty-two percent said they favored legalizing marijuana use; 45 percent were opposed.

(More here.)

In Hunt for Red Abalone, Divers Face Risks and Poachers Face the Law

Prized but Perilous Catch

By JOHN BRANCH, NYT
JULY 25, 2014

FORT BRAGG, Calif. — Every year, as steady as the tides, lifeless bodies are pulled from the cold, restless water along the rugged coastline north of San Francisco.

Most of the victims are middle-aged men. They wear black wet suits, usually hooded. They are often found in small coves framed by crescents of jagged rocks. An abandoned float tube sometimes bobs about nearby. Almost without exception, the victims are found wearing weighted belts that help them sink.

Sometimes the bodies are discovered by friends nearby. If the fog is not too thick, the victims might be spotted from the towering bluffs above, where lifeguards patrol dozens of miles of desolate coast and armed game wardens spy for poachers. Many of the bodies are plucked from the swells by a search-and-rescue helicopter crew accustomed to making daring rope rescues and recoveries several times a year.

The bodies are those of abalone divers.

(More here.)

Saturday, July 26, 2014

NYT: The federal government should repeal the ban on marijuana

Repeal Prohibition, Again

By THE EDITORIAL BOARD, NY

It took 13 years for the United States to come to its senses and end Prohibition, 13 years in which people kept drinking, otherwise law-abiding citizens became criminals and crime syndicates arose and flourished. It has been more than 40 years since Congress passed the current ban on marijuana, inflicting great harm on society just to prohibit a substance far less dangerous than alcohol.

The federal government should repeal the ban on marijuana.

We reached that conclusion after a great deal of discussion among the members of The Times’s Editorial Board, inspired by a rapidly growing movement among the states to reform marijuana laws.

There are no perfect answers to people’s legitimate concerns about marijuana use. But neither are there such answers about tobacco or alcohol, and we believe that on every level — health effects, the impact on society and law-and-order issues — the balance falls squarely on the side of national legalization. That will put decisions on whether to allow recreational or medicinal production and use where it belongs — at the state level.

(More here.)

The Typical Household, Now Worth a Third Less

By ANNA BERNASEK, NYT, JULY 26, 2014

Economic inequality in the United States has been receiving a lot of attention. But it’s not merely an issue of the rich getting richer. The typical American household has been getting poorer, too.

The inflation-adjusted net worth for the typical household was $87,992 in 2003. Ten years later, it was only $56,335, or a 36 percent decline, according to a study financed by the Russell Sage Foundation. Those are the figures for a household at the median point in the wealth distribution — the level at which there are an equal number of households whose worth is higher and lower. But during the same period, the net worth of wealthy households increased substantially.

The Russell Sage study also examined net worth at the 95th percentile. (For households at that level, 94 percent of the population had less wealth and 4 percent had more.) It found that for this well-do-do slice of the population, household net worth increased 14 percent over the same 10 years. Other research, by economists like Edward Wolff at New York University, has shown even greater gains in wealth for the richest 1 percent of households.

For households at the median level of net worth, much of the damage has occurred since the start of the last recession in 2007. Until then, net worth had been rising for the typical household, although at a slower pace than for households in higher wealth brackets. But much of the gain for many typical households came from the rising value of their homes. Exclude that housing wealth and the picture is worse: Median net worth began to decline even earlier.

(More here.)

What happens when extremism becomes mainstream?

The Existential Battle for the Soul of the GOP

By Norm Ornstein, National Journal
July 23, 2014

The most interesting, and important, dynamic in American politics today is the existential struggle going on in the Republican Party between the establishment and the insurgents—or to be more accurate, between the hard-line bedrock conservatives (there are only trace elements of the old-line center-right bloc, much less moderates) and the radicals.

Of course, tugs-of-war between establishment forces and ideological wings are nothing new with our political parties. They have been a continuing factor for many decades. The Republican Party had deep-seated struggles between its Progressive wing, led by Teddy Roosevelt and Robert La Follette, and its conservative establishment, led by William Howard Taft and House Speaker "Uncle Joe" Cannon, going back to the turn of the 20th century.

The Progressives succeeded in stripping Speaker Cannon of his dictatorial powers in 1910, and TR's willingness to bolt the GOP and run in 1912 as a Progressive on the Bull Moose Party line killed Taft's chances of winning and elected Democrat Woodrow Wilson. The struggles continued with moderates Wendell Wilkie and Tom Dewey battling Taft's progeny Robert through the 1940s. And, of course, the insurgents' struggles continued through Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan. Reagan first moved into national politics in 1968, with an abortive challenge to centrist Richard Nixon, who won and governed in the middle on domestic policy, promoting liberal social policies on welfare and health reform. Reagan reemerged in 1976, and his foray against centrist President Ford cost Ford the election—but Reagan's own election as president in 1980 led to an era of relatively pragmatic center-right policy-making. At the same time, however, the ongoing regional changes in the country were eliminating the bases of moderate and liberal Republicans and moving the GOP center of gravity to a lily-white and hard-line base in the South and rural West.

Democrats have had their own battles. The radical populist William Jennings Bryan won control (and lost the White House three times) around the turn of the century. But the victory of the establishment with Woodrow Wilson ushered in an era of relative calm. However, a Democratic Party built on two disparate wings—Southern rural conservatives determined to maintain segregation, Northern urban liberals determined to deploy and maintain the New Deal—had an uneasy alliance that enabled the party to keep a hammerlock on Congress for decades but began to unravel in the 1960s with the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts.

(More here.)

Oooooohhhh ... Offside! No goal!

Israel calls Brazil a ‘diplomatic dwarf’ – and then brings up World Cup humiliation

By Adam Taylor July 25 at 11:31 AM WashPost

In a statement on Wednesday, Brazil condemned what it said was a "disproportionate use of force" by Israel in its Gaza Strip offensive by pulling out its ambassador from Tel Aviv for "consultation." The country is the second country to recall its ambassador from Israel; Ecuador did so earlier in the week.

At first, the official reaction from Israel appeared sanguine. "Brazil is a friend, but we think its position is not balanced," Israel's general consul in São Paulo, Yoel Barnea, said according to the Wall Street Journal, adding that Israel should have a right to defend itself from the thousands of missiles being fired at it by Hamas and other Palestinian groups.

Things soon took a turn for the worse. “This is an unfortunate demonstration of why Brazil, an economic and cultural giant, remains a diplomatic dwarf,” Israeili Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said on Thursday, the Jerusalem Post reports. “The moral relativism behind this move makes Brazil an irrelevant diplomatic partner, one who creates problems rather than contributes to solutions.”

That insult wasn't the worst that Israel had reserved for Brazil, however. In an interview with the Brazilian media, Palmor brought up the most humiliating moment in recent Brazilian history – this summer's stunning World Cup semifinal loss to Germany.

(More here.)

Beatlemaniacs, Beliebers, Directioners — why do they scream?

By Chris Richards July 25 at 11:22 AM WashPost

When One Direction and 5 Seconds of Summer perform at Nationals Park next month, you’ll have to squint your ears to hear the boy bands’ hits amid a more ancient and fascinating sound: the emptying of adolescent lungs.

Obviously, there will be screaming — high-decibel, high-pitch swells that push hard on the eardrums and then harder, toward the surreal. It’s an abstract sound that JC Chasez has had years to ponder as a member of the multi-platinum juggernaut ’N Sync. But putting the power of that communal wail into words still isn’t easy.

“Sound is energy,” Chasez says. “And the entire room is producing sound, not just the people onstage, so when the entire room is resonating with every human being producing, it’s a very exciting feeling.”

Surely. But what’s behind that feeling? Why do young women assembled at pop concerts express their collective ecstasy with the most alarming sound available to their bodies? Why do they scream?

(More here.)

Ex-Chief of C.I.A. Shapes Response to Detention Report

By MARK MAZZETTI, NYT
JULY 25, 2014

WASHINGTON — Just after the Senate Intelligence Committee voted in April to declassify hundreds of pages of a withering report on the Central Intelligence Agency’s detention and interrogation program, C.I.A. Director John O. Brennan convened a meeting of the men who had played a role overseeing the program in its seven-year history.

The spies, past and present, faced each other around the long wooden conference table on the seventh floor of the C.I.A.’s headquarters in Northern Virginia: J. Cofer Black, head of the agency’s counterterrorism center at the time of the Sept. 11 attacks; the undercover officer who now holds that job; and a number of other former officials from the C.I.A.’s clandestine service. Over the speakerphone came the distinctive, Queens-accented voice of George J. Tenet.

Over the past several months, Mr. Tenet has quietly engineered a counterattack against the Senate committee’s voluminous report, which could become public next month. The effort to discredit the report has set up a three-way showdown among former C.I.A. officials who believe history has been distorted, a White House carefully managing the process and politics of declassifying the document, and Senate Democrats convinced that the Obama administration is trying to protect the C.I.A. at all costs.

The report is expected to accuse a number of former C.I.A. officials of misleading Congress and the White House about the program and its effectiveness, but it is Mr. Tenet who might have the most at stake.

(More here.)

It Turns Out Hamas Didn’t Kidnap and Kill the 3 Israeli Teens After All

By Katie Zavadski — New York Magazine

When the bodies of three Israeli teenagers, kidnapped in the West Bank, were found late last month, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not mince words. "Hamas is responsible, and Hamas will pay," he said, initiating a campaign that eventually escalated into the present conflict in the region.

But now, officials admit the kidnappings were not Hamas's handiwork after all.

Non-plagiarizing BuzzFeed writer Sheera Frenkel was among the first to suggest that it was unlikely that Hamas was behind the deaths of Gilad Shaar, Naftali Frenkel, and Eyal Yifrach. Citing Palestinian sources and experts the field, Frenkel reported that kidnapping three Israeli teens would be a foolish move for Hamas. International experts told her it was likely the work of a local group, acting without concern for the repercussions:
[Gershon Baskin] pointed out that Hamas has earlier this month signed an agreement to form a unity government with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, bridging, for the first time in seven years, the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank and Gaza. 
“They will lose their reconciliation agreement with Abbas if they do take responsibility for [the kidnappings],” Baskin added.
(More here.)

Friday, July 25, 2014

AP Journalists Saw Rebels With BUK Missiles Hours Before MH17 Crashed

By YURAS KARMANAU and PETER LEONARD 07/25/14 03:53 PM ET EDT

SNIZHNE, Ukraine (AP) — It was lunchtime when a tracked launcher with four SA-11 surface-to-air missiles rolled into town and parked on Karapetyan Street. Fifteen hundred miles (2,400 kilometers) to the west, passengers were checking in for Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.

It had been a noisy day in this eastern Ukrainian town, residents recounted. Plenty of military equipment was moving through. But still it was hard to miss the bulky missile system, also known as a Buk M-1. It left deep tread marks in the asphalt as it rumbled by in a small convoy.

The vehicles stopped in front of journalists from The Associated Press. A man wearing unfamiliar fatigues, speaking with a distinctive Russian accent, checked to make sure they weren't filming. The convoy then moved on, destination unknown in the heart of eastern Ukraine's pro-Russia rebellion.

Three hours later, people six miles (10 kilometers) west of Snizhne heard loud noises.

And then they saw pieces of twisted metal — and bodies— fall from the sky.

(More here.)

10,000 Bodies: Inside Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's Crackdown

Photographs of Corpses Offer Evidence of Industrial-Scale Campaign Against Political Opponents by Assad Regime, U.S. Investigators Say

By Adam Entous And Dion Nissenbaum WSJ
Updated July 25, 2014 7:11 p.m. ET

A card identifies a corpse at Hospital 601 in Damascus, Syria. U.S. investigators believe at least 10,000 people, most of them anti-Assad activists, were tortured and killed between 2011 and 2013 as part of a crackdown on opponents of the regime.

At Hospital 601, not far from the presidential palace in Damascus, Syrian guards ran out of space to store the dead and had to use an adjoining warehouse where military vehicles were repaired.

A forensic photographer working for Syria's military police walked the rows and took pictures of the emaciated and disfigured corpses, most believed to be anti-Assad activists. Numbers written on the bodies and on white cards, the photographer said, told regime bureaucrats the identities of the deceased, when they died and which branch of the Syrian security services had held them. (Graphic image follows.)

U.S. investigators who have reviewed many of the photos say they believe at least 10,000 corpses were cataloged this way between 2011 and mid-2013. Investigators believe they weren't victims of regular warfare but of torture, and that the bodies were brought to the hospital from the Assad regime's sprawling network of prisons. They were told some appeared to have died on site.

Last year, the Syrian military-police photographer defected to the West. Investigators later gave him the code name Caesar to disguise his identity. He turned over to U.S. law-enforcement agencies earlier this year a vast trove of postmortem photographs from Hospital 601 that he and other military photographers took over the two-year period, which he helped smuggle out of the country on digital thumb drives.

(More here.)

Obama and the Myth of Presidential Control

Brendan Nyhad, NYT
JULY 24, 2014

One of the most common criticisms of presidents — especially struggling ones during their second term — is that they have lost control of events.

This charge, which has been leveled at chief executives such as Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, has become a mantra lately in coverage of President Obama, who faces a stalled legislative agenda and crises in Ukraine, Gaza and at the border with Mexico.

What happened? One frequent explanation from pundits and journalists is that Mr. Obama has “little control” and is instead being “driven” or “buffeted” by events.

This notion pervades commentary and debate on the presidency. We want to believe that the president is (or should be) in control. It’s the impulse behind holding the president responsible for a bad economy and giving him credit for a good one (the most important factor in presidential approval and election outcomes). The reassuring nature of presidential control is also why news media coverage of foreign policy crises and other events that rally the country tends to use language that depicts the president as being in command.

(More here.)

The MH17 Disaster Is All America's Fault?

Ron Paul and 'The Nation' want the U.S. to stop blaming poor Russia

By Linda Kinstler, TNR

It’s not just the Russians who are spouting conspiracy theories about Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. Americans far right and far left have joined the chorus, propagating the notion that it's the U.S., not Russia, that is ultimately responsible for the catastrophe.

Former Republican Congressman Ron Paul, well-known for his incendiary dispatches, leads the pack. Enraged by the mainstream media’s supposedly negligent reporting of the plane crash, Paul on Sunday published a long indictment of the American press, “What the Mainstream Media Won’t Report About Malaysian Airlines Flight 17.” Chief among the media's alleged failures: “They will not report that the crisis in Ukraine started late last year, when EU and US-supported protesters plotted the overthrow of the elected Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovych. Without US-sponsored ‘regime change,’ it is unlikely that hundreds would have been killed in the unrest that followed. Nor would the Malaysian Airlines crash have happened.”

Leaving aside the lie that the media “will not report” that the crisis started in November 2013, Paul’s overarching message is one we’ve heard before. It’s the same one that The Nation’s Stephen F. Cohen and Katrina vanden Heuvel invoked back in May, when they suggested that Washington has secretly and silently become complicit in Obama’s effort to start a new Cold War. As The New Republic's Julia Ioffe wrote of the couple’s critique, “The moral imperative of sticking it to Washington and American hegemony is so pressing, so important, that, in true revolutionary fashion, the facts can easily be subsumed under the greater mission.”

But Paul’s disregard for facts far outpaces that of Cohen and vanden Heuvel. He writes that the mainstream media "will not report that the post-coup government in Kiev has, according to OSCE monitors, killed 250 people in the breakaway Lugansk region since June, including 20 killed as government forces bombed the city center the day after the plane crash! Most of these are civilians and together they roughly equal the number killed in the plane crash. By contrast, Russia has killed no one in Ukraine, and the separatists have struck largely military, not civilian, targets.” The only thing that matters is that Russia has killed no one in Ukraine; it just armed and trained and let surreptitious “volunteer” forces cross into Ukraine to do the killing on Russia’s behalf.

(More here.)

Congress’s Next Big Idea? Sue Obama

Ambulance Chaser in the House

Timothy Egan, NYT
JULY 25, 2014

You’re a member of Congress, and everyone hates you. You’re likely to be a lawyer — the leading profession for federal legislators — and most everyone hates lawyers, with a Pew survey finding that people rank them at the very bottom in contributing something to society. Is there anything you could do to generate more contempt?

Yes — sue somebody! The speaker of the House, John Boehner, has announced that Republicans in the House are likely to file suit against President Obama. They are doing this because he delayed parts of a law, the Affordable Care Act, that they have tried to repeal more than 50 times. If they win, business owners who have been given some breathing room from providing mandatory health care would have to quickly implement the very thing that Republicans say is a job-killing bullet to the economy.

It’s head-spinning, all of it. We’ve finally reached the point where the do-nothing, delay-everything, don’t-even-allow-a-vote-on-measures-a-majority-of-Americans-favor Congress has reached its logical position. They will not legislate. But they will litigate.

“Their big idea has been to sue me,” the president said earlier this month, unable to sustain a giggle. “That’s what they’re spending time on.”

(More here.)