Monday, September 01, 2014

How to close Guantanomo Bay prison

Congress has been pretty successful at cutting off most routes for the Obama administration to shut down Guantanamo. I keep wondering what would happen if Obama just ordered the military to let all of the remaining detainees go free by the end of the year unless Congress provides for something else, and then tells Congress that it can either let those 70 "high level detainees" go free or pass legislation authorizing some alternative to Guantanamo.

Obama will never do it. Even just the threat of releasing the high level people is pure political poison. And there's always a chance that Congress would just pass veto-proof legislation to keep them in Gitmo indefinitely, causing the offshore prison facility to become even more entrenched. But I think that kind of threat to let them go or else is the only way that Obama has a plausible chance to close the facility down before the end of his term.

Not so "unlikely allies"

I wonder how many times some version of this "strange bedfellows" article can be written about how the U.S. and Iran are effectively on the same side. The two countries were on the same side when the U.S. went to war against the Taliban in 2001, they were on the same side when the U.S. was supporting the shia' led Iraqi government during its long occupation of Iraq, and they are on the same side now with ISIS.

The bottom line is U.S. and Iranian interest have been more or less in alignment in the middle east on a bunch of issues for years, with the big exceptions being issues concerning Israel and Iran's nuclear program. But really that is just one issue because one of the main reasons that the U.S. considers Iran to be a nuclear outlaw is the Islamic Republic's stance on Israel. America has a long history of tolerating and cooperating with nuclear outlaws if it otherwise suits its strategic interests (i.e. countries that develop nuclear weapons outside of the NPT framework). The three big examples being Israel, India, and Pakistan.

And actually, Iran, unlike those other three, is an NPT signatory. So Iran is arguably much less of a nuclear rogue state than they are. (You could also argue it the other way, that you're more of a rogue if you accept a regulatory framework and cheat than if you don't agree to the framework that the rest of the world is governed by at all. But that's assuming that Iran is cheating, something that Iran denies, but others including the U.S. and Israel, insists they are.)

The other big thing that puts Iran and the U.S. at odds is, of course, recent history. It is hard for the U.S. to get past what happened in 1979-81, just as it is hard for Iran to get past what happened in 1953.

Anyway, my point is that if you can look past second-half of the 20th century history and the differences over Israel, the U.S. and Iran have long had a lot of interests in common in the region. It's just that those other things loom so large that they obscure the countries' other common interest. So every few months someone notices those common interest and writes the same damn article about how odd it is that Iran and the U.S. happen to be on the same side for once, even though that "for once" has been happening over and over again for the past decade and a half.

Friday, August 29, 2014

NATO and the crisis in Ukraine

One of the concerns that is thought to motivate Putin in his policy towards Ukraine is concern about further expansion of NATO. Particularly, the Russian government is concerned that if Ukraine turns away from Russia and towards the EU, it will ultimately be offered NATO membership, bringing NATO bases right to Russia's borders.

Russia doesn't like NATO expansion into the former Soviet block. And frankly, I don't blame them. As I have written several different times, it is totally understandable for Russia to be opposed to NATO expansion. The alliance was formed as an explicitly anti-Russian alliance. When the cold war ended the rhetoric changed so that people no longer talked about NATO in terms of hostility. But the behavior of members of the NATO alliance sent a different message when it dangled the prospect of NATO membership to every other former Warsaw pact country, plus many former soviet republics except for Russia. For the most part those former soviet block countries have jumped at the chance to join NATO expressly because they are afraid of Russia. Add to the fact that Russia had been led to believe that NATO would not expand when it agreed to withdraw from East Germany but the West did not stick to that informal agreement, it is hard to see how the Russians to see the alliance as anything other than hostile to their country. There is no reason for NATO countries to act the way they have unless they still viewed their alliance as anti-Russian.

Last night it occurred to me that if Putin's policy is motivated by his desire to stop NATO expansion, he is doing exactly the wrong thing in Ukraine. By destabilizing his neighbor, seizing some of its territory, and now apparently invading it, Russia is reinforcing the idea that Russia is a danger to its neighbors and needs to be contained.

The whole argument against NATO is that it really is an anti-Russian alliance and that kind of alliance is an anachronism. If the new Russia is integrated into the world economy and poses no threats to its neighbors or the interests of the other NATO countries, then the alliance has no purpose. Russia's own recent actions towards Ukraine completely undermine that argument. In fact, the last few months of news from the Ukraine is the best argument there is for keeping NATO and even expanding it.

ADDING: Like I was saying...  On the other hand, current NATO members would be crazy to admit Ukraine at this point. That would be effectively committing all of the member states to an immediate war with Russia. But NATO could put Ukraine in some "on the road to full membership" status, which will probably just piss off the Russians even more. But will also further demonstrate that if Russia's goal in all of this were to keep Ukraine away from NATO, that policy has been a complete failure.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

We're #27!

Good news! Governor Deadmanwalking is agreeing to Medicaid expansion in PA! in practice, this just means that the expansion in Pennsylvania will happen a few months sooner. At least now we won't have to wait for Tom Wolf to kick his ass before it happens.

UPDATE (8/29/14): This article has more details about the terms of medicaid expansion in PA. Making expanded medicaid people purchase private insurance with public money rather than just extending the existing medicaid program to cover them seems like a pretty crappy and wasteful way way to do it. But at least it will get more people coverage and there's at least a chance that more sanity will reign when after Wolf gets sworn in next year.


When a democratic candidate loses a presidential race, the candidate gets a mark of shame that precludes any serious future run for the presidency. Think Mike Dukakis, Al Gore, and John Kerry. Hell, even Jimmy Carter, who won the Presidency one time, but then became disgraced by in the eyes of the D.C. bobbleheads because he lost the second time.

This does not happen with Republican candidates. When they lose, they instantly graduate into public figures who continue to be taken seriously by the Washington establishment. Think Bob Dole and John McCain. But there is no better example of this phenomenon than Mitt Romney.

By any measure Mitt Romney was a disastrous presidential candidate. He lost his run for the presidency not once, but twice! In fact, the main reason that John McCain got the GOP nomination in 2008 was that he was viewed the best alternative to Mitt Romney. For some reason, that primary loss did not brand a giant L on Mitt's forehead, so he tried again and got the nomination in 2012 only because he was the only clown in the clown car who didn't make the money people nervous. Then he ran against an incumbent president who came into office with high hopes but who was mostly branded as a disappointment by election day. Mitt still lost in the general election, and he lost really badly.

How badly? Put aside the 5 million vote difference and the lopsided 332-206 electoral college tally. Remember how people kept talking about how bad of a candidate Al Gore was by pointing to the fact that he could not even win his home state of Tennessee? Mitt had houses in three different states and he lost all of them (Massachusetts, California and New Hampshire). He also lost Wisconsin, the home state of his Vice President. And he lost Michigan, his boyhood home and the state where his father had served as governor. If Romney were a Democrat, the prospect of a third run for president would be a punchline to a joke.

But Romney is not a Democrat, so bring it on!

Oh Canada

The above image was tweeted by the Canadian NATO delegation as a handy guide for all those Russian soldiers who keep accidentally wandering into Ukraine.

You'll note that Crimea is included in the blue-shaded "Not Russia" part, which is the official position of Canada, but is not likely to be convincing to Russia. The map also fails to designate Kaliningrad Oblast as Russian, and that one isn't even controversial.

(Kaliningrad Oblast is an enclave--Russian territory not connected to the rest of Russia--that lies between Poland and Lithuania on the Baltic Sea Coast. The Oblast appears on the above map as a white unmarked country and is easy to find if you know where to look.)

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Beyond Parody

Both Atrios and Kevin Drum already covered this, so there's probably no point in my bringing it up. But I will anyway because this is is such a perfect example of why Bill Kristol is a such a horrible human being. I mean what "[bad] unanticipated side effects" could there possibly be about bombing a country? I wonder if that logic applies to Kristol's own neighborhood? Or are bad unanticipated side effects only completely off the table when the bombing occurs in far off countries where Kristol and no one he personally knows lives?

Why do the same choices keep resulting in the same outcomes?!?!?!

Israelis are mad at Netanyahu:
"After 50 days of warfare in which a terror organization killed dozens of soldiers and civilians, destroyed the daily routine (and) placed the country in a state of economic distress ... we could have expected much more than an announcement of a ceasefire," analyst Shimon Shiffer wrote in Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel's biggest-selling newspaper.
Why would you possibly expect that? A ceasefire is exactly how every other conflict with Hamas has ended since the group took control of Gaza. That was even how Operation Cast Lead ended even though Israeli committed to a larger ground operation that it did this time. This outcome was totally predictable (in fact, I predicted it and I'm hardly a soothsayer). So predictable every other possible outcome seemed more like fantasy than reality to me.

Is Israeli society so caught up in its own nationalism that it can't learn any lessons from its own recent history? If they want to make actual progress in their dealings with Hamas, they just need to find another way of dealing with them other than assuming the military can magically solve the problem (i.e. what they have been trying over and over even though it keeps proving to be a failure and only seems to accomplish a swath of senseless death and destruction).

Remember the waving flag images in the corner of every news broadcast?

This analysis of how the Israeli press got caught up in the country's nationalistic fervor in the recent conflict is worth reading. But it's worth remembering that that is basically what happened to the U.S. media after 9/11, when the U.S. became "we" and American reporters paid almost no attention to the death and destruction that American weapons were inflicting on people in far off places.

People go a little crazy when their country goes to war. News sources are run by people, so the coverage is going to be affected. But these days the distortions are not limited to the country in the conflict. Over the past few weeks I watched friends and relatives repeat misleading or distorted stories about the world from Israeli sources on social media, creating a kind of alternate reality bubble from which they viewed the world. When confronted with a conflicting narrative from a non-Israeli source, that source was immediately dismissed as "biased" and so the bubble never gets popped.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Malaysian Airlines is getting screwed by high-profile bad luck

Avoiding Malaysian Airlines these days is nothing but an irrational fear. But a lot of people are ruled by irrational fears.

I personally would not hesitate to fly Malaysian right now. I keep hoping they will offer crazy cheap fares to woo customers back. But if they are losing $2 million dollars a day, I guess that isn't likely.


Recently, I have been pretty pessimistic about the 2014 Gaza war ending. It seemed obvious that both the Israelis and Hamas were ready for it to end, they just didn't know how to stop. Hamas insisted on the easing of the blockade of Gaza including the opening of the long-promised seaport and airport (how else could it present the conflict as a victory unless it had something to show for it?) Israel insisted upon total disarmament of Gaza (how else could it present all of the civilian casualties in Gaza as worth it unless it ended up with some lasting accomplishment?)

In my mind, neither side was likely to give the other what it wanted. Not only because the other's condition would be viewed as unacceptable on the merits but also because each was loath to give the other anything that resembled a "victory." And so for the past week or two, it looked to me like the conflict was over in all but the killing.

But it looks like they found a way to bridge the gap for an "indefinite ceasefire." It looks like Israel dropped the disarmament demand, and Hamas came away with some "easing" of the blockade without any mention of anything specific or the sea or airport. If this plays out like ceasefire arrangement that ended the 2012 conflict, I expect the "easing" will be a few symbolic gestures without much substance. Which means this agreement is probably just a prelude to the 2016 Gaza war. Assuming this ceasefire holds, of course.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Mystery Airstrikes Now Less Mysterious!!!

Last week I saw the story about the mystery airstrikes in Tripoli. Mystery airstrikes! Oh how I wanted to write a post about that! But I didn't because I didn't really have anything to say other than that someone airstruck Libya and no one knew who did it. In other words, pretty much what the above-linked article said. I don't generally post about things, even interesting things, unless I feel I have something to add. While I love a good mystery, I didn't know who did the airstrikes and, as far as I could tell, it could have been almost anyone.

Later, Egypt denied it did the airstrikes. And today it looks like Egypt is a big fat liar. Which makes me wonder if the anti-Islamist campaign of General Hifter wasn't engineered by outsiders like Egypt and the UAE. He did seem to come out of nowhere last Spring. Then again, what do I know about the complicated dynamics of the Libyan civil war?

(Aside: am I the only one who sees "Hitler" whenever I read Hifter's name? Annoying! But it also kinda reminds me of Mr. Hilter.)


Yeah, this "ISIS is Hamas" stuff reminds me of when the Bush administration was trying to conflate al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq.

I understand why the Netanyahu government would want to confuse people and draw equivalence between different groups that follow different versions of Islam with different goals and different enemies. But I don't understand why anyone else would take this stuff seriously.

Chocolution 34: Slitti, GranCaco

This company has the worst name. Slitti? Seriously? It must sound better in Italian.

The chocolate, on the other hand, is not bad. Not my favorite either. The bar was less bold and more creamy than what I usually prefer. That's probably because at 60%, the cacao percentage is lower than the other bars I have been sampling. Gran cacao mio culo!!!

Friday, August 22, 2014


Just two days ago, it looked like the endgame was near for the rebellion in Eastern Ukraine, now suddenly we're back to the prospect of a Ukraine-Russian war. Maybe it's already happening.

I guess with sudden swings like that, the pendulum could still swing back. But at this moment, things are not looking great.

What's next? Denial of property rights to poltergeists?!?!

Monkeys, ghosts, and gods cannot own copyrights.

Actually, I wonder if the third one will cause any real controversy because there are plenty of people who believe in the literal reality of "divine or supernatural beings" (although most believers are probably not all that concerned about divine copyrights).

Instilling paranoia

I suspect this was the point when Israel bragged yesterday about its intelligence capabilities when it assassinated 3 Hamas leaders. The people Hamas executed might be the Israeli agents who gave information that permitted the IDF to target their attack or they might not be. Either way, this throws the remaining Hamas leadership off balance and forces them to constantly look over their shoulders for spies and turncoats.


This is kind of a twist on that "how [U.S. domestic news story] would be reported if it happened in a foreign country" genre.

لغة القوة

Other than thinking about how awful it must have been for the Foley family to receive it, the thing that stuck out at me about this email was this line:
You have no motivation to deal with the Muslims except with the language of force, a language you were given in “Arabic translation” when you attempted to occupy the land of Iraq!
I think that's a reference to the trope, popular among certain anti-Muslim/anti-Arab bigots in the West, that Arabs or Muslims only understand the "language of force." The idea is linked to Raphael Patai's largely discredited book "The Arab Mind", the so-called "bible of the neocons on Arab behavior" that was widely read at U.S. Military colleges in the years after 9/11.

(via Memeorandum)