Monday, March 16, 2015

Devious Disguises for Terrorists

Even evil fanatics like kittens. 

Monday, March 9, 2015

Never Give Up, Never Surrender!

Netanyahu the Eighth, 80 years into the Iranian-American war. (Artist's Rendition)
In his speech to congress, Israeli PM Netanyahu came out strongly against a deal with Iran to limit their nuclear program.  
Now, a decade may seem like a long time in political life, but it's the blink of an eye in the life of a nation. It's a blink of an eye in the life of our children. We all have a responsibility to consider what will happen when Iran's nuclear capabilities are virtually unrestricted and all the sanctions will have been lifted. Iran would then be free to build a huge nuclear capacity that could product many, many nuclear bombs. 
Iran's Supreme Leader says that openly. He says, Iran plans to have 190,000 centrifuges, not 6,000 or even the 19,000 that Iran has today, but 10 times that amount -- 190,000 centrifuges enriching uranium. With this massive capacity, Iran could make the fuel for an entire nuclear arsenal and this in a matter of weeks, once it makes that decision. 
My long-time friend, John Kerry, Secretary of State, confirmed last week that Iran could legitimately possess that massive centrifuge capacity when the deal expires.
The exact details of a deal aren't public, but it seems likely that Netanyahu has someone privy to the secret talks keeping him up to date.  That said, I find it highly unlikely that these details are concrete.  Things can change very rapidly in negotiations.

So why the pressure?

The easiest answer is that this is a political ploy designed to win Netanyahu a few more votes in the Israeli parliament.  The second answer is that Netanyahu doesn't trust Obama to make a good deal with Iran.  This could put pressure on Obama to negotiate harder.  It could be an attempt to damage Obama politically, seeing as Israel is (for now) very popular in the US.

The best answer is probably e) All of the above.

How Republicans Learned to Stop Worrying, and Love the Bomb

47 Senate Republicans just sent a letter to the supreme leader of Iran, reminding him that they don't like him, and have some power to reject a nuclear deal because -> constitution.

Why would Republicans try to sabotage a deal with Iran?

Well, many reasons.  

If I had to guess, I'd say the fundamental dynamic underlining this letter is that it's a part of a GOP strategic calculation along these lines:
-If Obama can get a good deal, when push comes to shove no one will block it.
-The Senate may not pass it, but anything reasonably strong will probably stay alive, simply because at the end of the day (some) republicans are perfectly aware invading Iran is a bad idea.
-Republicans think they have more to lose should they appear weak in front of their base than if they attack the deal and it still is passed.
-If the deal fails, it can be blamed entirely on Obama and most of the public will be none-the-wiser
It's not always easy to discern the difference between ideological blinders and genuine democratic-political necessity: a politician who makes idiotic decisions could be doing so because he/she is an idiot, or because that decision is genuinely what their constituents want and will help them politically. Obviously it's always some of both, but it's difficult to untangle the two.
I'm going a bit off the reservation here, but if I had to guess, I'd say that many establishment republicans are less concerned with the possibility of Iran becoming a nuclear state then they would ever admit. For one, Israel has been crying wolf for so long that "being concerned with Iran" is more of a political shibboleth than an actual worry. When it comes to the hard political realities, I don't buy it that all 47 of these senators actually want to sabotage the nuclear deal. Some probably think this nonsense won't actually matter when it comes down to it, but god forgive them if pass up the chance to score short term political points in the mean time.
Ideology definitely plays into this though. In the mind of the right, the only reason the US wouldn't be able to stop Iran from getting a nuke is weakness on Obama's part. You might call this "Reagan Syndrome", where all it takes to defeat our enemies is to stand strong, call out the axis of evil for the evil things they are (along with lots of patriot chest-thumping), and they will fold because they cannot stand up to our democratic perfection and military prowess. All you need to do is shout "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" and it will single-handedly bring down the USSR.
That's my armchair-psychoanalysis, at least. Mind you, sometimes threats and force are warranted and useful, but republicans tend to go off the reservation when the country is led by a democratic president. Their bias is that democrats are weak, always, forever, regardless of the circumstances. 'Obama is playing into Iran's hand, how could he be so naive? He must be selling out Israel because he hates them' etc. etc.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Resisting Arrest While Black

Concerning the homicide of Eric Garner, someone recently pointed out to me that Garner resisted arrest.


He didn't resist arrest anymore than the average grandmother would do.

And when he lay there dying on the ground they stood there and watched. When the EMT came and asked them why no one administered CPR a cop lied and said he was breathing. He was not.

If you think this had nothing to do with race, I would ask you to sit down for a moment and just watch the footage. And then watch it again. The police violently strangled a man who was non-threatening, who "resisted" by pleading with them that he couldn't breath while like five or so of them pinned him to the ground. The whole situation happened very quickly, but they just stand around, watching this man die. He was large and he was black, and if you can write that off in your head and excuse the cops for whatever reason you can come up with to satisfy that cognitive dissonance, but I hope this will make people think. The country needs to come to terms with the way we approach race. Ferguson polarized it for obvious reason, but the fact of the matter is that black people are killed, beaten and mistreated by the police more than the rest of us. And you wonder why they don't trust police?

Friday, June 13, 2014

Come Together, Right Now - Middle-East!

As ISIS's advance into Iraq begins to freak out just about everyone, I would like to call for a grand coalition between all involved parties.  I'm calling on the US, Iran, Iraq, Ukraine, Russia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Guatemala to band together in unity, and fight off the crazy Jihadist extremists.

From this winning NYT article yesterday:
"Reports that Iran has sent its paramilitary Quds Force to help the struggling Iraqi Army battle the militant group, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, raised the awkward possibility that the United States could find itself allied with Iran in shoring up an unpopular Shiite government in Baghdad." 
 Nothing like a common enemy to unite the forces of good1!

Oh, and I've been slow on the inevitable ISIS puns, but don't you worry; they're coming.

1 Terms and Conditions may apply

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Actually Doing Something

I will come out and admit that too often I'm just another armchair social-crusader.  I argue will people, I advocate on issues, occasionally I make a call to my representatives (who knows how much that helps), but my paltry $100 a year of charitable donations is a fraction of what it should be.  Like most of us, I should make an effort to be more involved in some way; volunteering, letter writing, whichever.  I have the usually excuses; I'm an over worked student, I sleep far too little as it is, etc. etc.  Those sort of excuses are often valid, and helping should always be balanced with not driving yourself into the ground.  But I suspect that for myself, like many, those excuses are sometimes just that; excuses.  When I have more free time, I don't usually go volunteer.  So here is a little public pledge to be better, for what it's worth.  

This summer I will do as much volunteer work as is productive and possible.  In this silly little bit of unprofessional and perhaps hypocritical advocacy, I urge everyone to do the same.

I'm going to post a lot on this soon, but my issue, THE issue of the day and the century is how in the hell we're going to prevent ourselves (I mean humanity) from wrecking our climate and the world.  So that's where I'm going to be focusing.  Who knows if I'll be able to make a difference.  Who knows if anyone will be able to, if anyone or anything is enough to confront this.  But I'm tired of talking about it.

Here is a list of some organizations trying to save the world.  (No, that's not actually hyperbole)

The National Resource Defense Council should be at the top of this list. They're doing fantastic work fighting climate change both publicly, and behind the scenes in Washington. At this point we need everything we can get.
For example, they were responsible for the proposal that the EPA modeled its new regulations after. While I think most would admit these aren't enough long term, they're the best possible solution for reducing carbon emissions that can be both effective and politically/legally defensible; keep in mind that these rules will inevitably have to face a supreme court challenge. The Clean Air Act was not written with this sort of regulation in mind, so it was a hugely important step.
Another small thing; you can also set up amazon smile to automatically donate a (admittedly small) fraction of your purchase to any of these organizations. It WILL NOT substitute for directly donating and volunteering, but everything helps. Doesn't cost you anything.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Good Policy and the GOP: Like Water, Oil and something that doesn't Mix with Water or Oil

I wish I had mentioned this at the time, but Republican Dave Camp came out with a tax plan a while ago that seemed actually pretty decent - insofar as GOP tax plans go.  It seemed to be revenue neutral, partly due to a tax on too-big-to-fail banks.  Unlike previous republican tax reforms (I'm looking at you, W), it didn't just lower taxes by increasing the debt (that cardinal sin, according to any republican, if it's done by a non-republican).  
Camp's plan would lower the tax brackets, although not excessively, but more importantly it actually confronts the many loopholes tax code.  Some of the biggest, like the mortgage-tax deduction, would be removed.  That's politically brave beyond most politicians these days, so you have to give it to Camp for his effort.  This is the GOP first tax reform attempt in memory that can actually be called a tax plan, rather than a piece of conservative agitprop.  It gives real detail to the cuts and difficult choices necessary to lower the highest tax bracket and the corporate tax.  It explains how these tax cuts will be paid for, without the handwaving and mystical "economic growth from trickle-down effects will balance the budget" which characterized Paul Ryan and Romney's plans.

Naturally, other Republicans hated the plan.  This leads to my favorite pundit/snark-machine Jonathan Chait's analysis;
Republican leaders like Mitch McConnell (“no hope”) and John Boehner (“blah blah blah blah”) have dismissed Camp’s plan as a utopian exercise, both because they fear its specific provisions will be used against Republicans, and also because they are soulless hacks. 
So predictably the plan has now been discarded and disowned by the GOP.  As Robert Frost might have told us, Nothing Gold Can Stay.