Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Yes, please piss me off Carly

In left blogistan there is a widely accepted theory that conservatives don't care about policy, they just want to support things they think will piss off liberals (even though they have a pretty inaccurate understanding of what actually pisses off liberals).

While I don't think that motivates every conservative, given what my conservative friends post on Facebook, it seems to be at least somewhat accurate. And now Carly Fiorina seems to be basing her campaign on the assumption that the theory of conservative motives is correct.

(via Memeorandum)


I'm not sure why Kevin McCarthy's out loud utterance of what everyone already knew would cause Democrats on the Benghazi! committee to suddenly start playing hardball. It's about time.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Srpska presents, foreign policy!

I subscribe to Foreign Policy Magazine's daily email blast. Recently I noticed that some of the emails have been "sponsored by the Government of the Republic of Srpska."

Why is the Bosnian Serb autonomous region of Bosnia and Herzegovina sponsoring English-language email blasts of news stories about foreign affairs? I mean, I guess it is hoped the advertisement will lead to some kind of investment in the region. (In fact if you click on the white "sponsored by" block in the email, you end up here, a page about investing in the region). But it still seems a little weird, and a little creepy, for a foreign government to be sponsoring the distribution of news stories about foreign governments.

On the other hand, the FP blast email recipients are probably more likely than the general population to know what the Republic of Srpska is. So if you're going to advertise somewhere...

Thursday, October 01, 2015

The Pope is still Catholic

I don't get the disillusionment about Pope Francis. He's still the Pope of the Catholic Church. Which means he largely subscribes to official Catholic doctrine. That includes the idea that gay marriage is wrong and that people who agree with the Catholic position should get a special legal exemption to not do their jobs in a way that would be unworkable if every religion got a similar exemption. None of this should be shocking or surprising to anyone.

But Francis has done one major thing to improve the Catholic Church in my humble opinion as a non-Catholic atheist sowhocareswhatIthink, and that is this: For the past 50 years, the Catholic Church has held official positions on a whole bunch of issues that intersect with politics, issues like support of anti-poverty programs, a critique of unfettered capitalism, support for government providing universal health care, belief that the environment needs to be protected, opposition to all wars except the ones that meet the allegedly narrow definition of a "just war", opposition to the death penalty, abortion, and most legislation to help gay people, support of organized labor, et cetera.

For the past few decades the American Church has prioritized its position on issues involving women and sexuality over all others. For years I have wondered why the American Church would be so willing to ignore its position on all those other issues just to be an anti-gay/anti-abortion lobby. It amazed me that American Bishops would threaten to deny communion to pro-choice politicians who were Catholic, but give a pass to all the Catholic politicians who were pro-death penalty or pro-Iraq War (two other things the Catholic Church officially opposed).

The big change that Francis has brought to the Catholic Church is that he is the first Pope, at least since I became an adult, who is not emphasizing the gay, abortion, and sexuality issues over all others. Francis is actually talking about the full range of Catholic positions. To my mind, that shift is a big deal and is a major improvement over how the Church has been acting over the last few decades. However, Francis is not really making any major changes to official Catholic doctrine. This only seems revolutionary because we have all gotten so used to the Catholic hierarchy acting like they were part of the evangelical right. At the same time, it is silly to be let down when this Pope does talk about abortion or gay issues. The Pope is still Catholic.

There's no way to walk back a comment that confirms what everyone already knew

It is funny to see Republicans try to walk back Kevin McCarthy's admission that the primary purpose of the House Committee on Benghazi was to do political damage to Hillary Clinton. McCarthy was only saying what everyone already knew. As Booman put it: "To say that this was the worst-kept secret in Washington DC would be to imply that it was a secret at all."

I wonder what the families of Christopher Stevens or Sean Smith (the two U.S. Diplomats who were killed in the 2012 attack that the committee is pretending to investigate) think about members of Congress using their loved ones to score political points.

Russia bombs Syria

It looks like Russia is doing what Turkey did a few weeks ago. They say they are intervening in the Syrian conflict by talking about the threat ISIS poses to the world, and then instead bomb a different rebel group that is opposed to ISIS, ISIS is not the "enemy," it is the convenient justification for outside powers to do whatever the hell they wanted to do all along. When Turkey started bombing Kurdish groups amidst anti-ISIS talk, I mentioned that despite its the Turk's rhetoric, its actions were actually helping the Islamic State. Russia's action will probably have the same effect. By bombing rebel groups that are not ISIS, it will both help make ISIS the strongest rebel group and further discredit the effectiveness of less religiously radical rebels.

At the same time, unlike just about everyone else, I don't see Russia's new intervention as some unique game-changer. Over the past two years, this conflict has been marked by repeated interventions by outside powers. First, Hezbollah intervened to prop up Assad, then Western powers (primarily the U.S., but with some British and French assistance) started their bombing campaign against ISIS, and then Turkey pretended to join the anti-ISIS campaign, but mostly just attacked the Kurds. Each one of those was a major deal when it started, and yet the conflict continued to grind on. Each one altered the internal dynamic of the conflict, without resolving the overall conflict or bringing it closer to resolution.

I expect the Russian intervention will have a similar effect. All Russia is really doing is giving Assad a more effective air force (just as Hezbollah gave him more effective ground forces). Because Russia is likely to prioritize groups that are most directly confronting Assad, it is not going to fight ISIS all that much (with the big exception of Palmyra, most of ISIS's expansion in Syria has been by taking territory that was already controlled by other rebel forces, not the Syrian government), at least that is how it will work until the increasingly beleaguered non-ISIS rebels cease to be a major factor in the conflict.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The big lie works with true believers, but not so much with everyone else

I'm not sure how this is playing within the rightwing media bubble, but in the past week Carly Fiorina has definitely solidified the impression that she is a serial liar with a lot of people outside that bubble. Because many of her biggest lies focus on Planned Parenthood, I suspect that many purveyors of the right's media machine are not fully aware of how badly this is tarnishing her image. But it is.

Not that her popularity with the general public matters much, because she will never get the GOP nomination. Then again, they all seem unelectable to me and yet someone has to get nominated. For a while I assumed the Republicans would flirt with everyone else before looping back to Jeb!, like they did with Romney last time. But Jeb! has turned out to be such an awful candidate (could he be even worse that Mittens?), that now I'm thinking it will end up being Rubio.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Afghanistan is obscure again

Some unarticulated rule of journalism is this: when you are covering a story in a city in another part of the world, the more obscure the city, the longer you should avoid mentioning the name of the city. So when Paris (a non-obscure place) has a day without cars, the word "Paris" can appear in the headline and the first line of the story. Nairobi also is unobscure enough to be headlined.  On the other hand, if the incident occurs in Nukus, capital of the Karakalpak semi-autonomous region within Uzbekistan (hey look, I've been there!), the city will go unnamed until at least the second paragraph.

I noticed that the WaPo just gave Kunduz the Nukus treatment. Kunduz! I know I'm a geography nerd, but Jesus Christ, that place has been in the news fairly regularly for almost a decade and a half. Have we really so completely pushed Afghanistan out of our collective consciousnesses?


Why is the focus on some imaginary Obama-Putin pissing contest rather than whether this will change the situation for actual people in Syria and Iraq?

Ever since Putin took back the Presidency of Russia, all coverage of anything that Russia does is framed as an idiotic horse race, like how they cover elections in the U.S. It used to be that international stories were the place where policy-based coverage was more prominent. But Vladimir Putin seems to make every American reporters want to treat him like he's stumping in Iowa.

Pope Francis Makes History

From the NYT:
“Please know that as I prepare to leave, I do so with a heart filled with gratitude and hope,” Francis said at Philadelphia International Airport before departing.
I believe that that is the first time ever that anyone has felt either gratitude or hope at PHL.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Horrible for people in the region, not clear if it is worse for people in the U.S.

Don't get me wrong, ISIS is a terrible group, one of the worst in terms of human rights on the planet. But for all their recruitment success, my impression is that they are mostly stealing recruits from Al Qaeda affiliated groups. While the various Al Qaeda franchises prioritize attacks against the West (the so-called "far enemy"), ISIS is spending most of its efforts to hold and expand their territory in Syria and Iraq. So if I view the conflict from a completely U.S.-centric viewpoint, ISIS's recruitment success is not necessarily a bad thing.

Actually, I don't think that a purely U.S.-centric viewpoint is how foreign policy questions should be viewed. But I do find it interesting when people who do view foreign affairs through that lens freak out about ISIS.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Boehner's exit will be good for the Democrats

Maybe I'm in the minority, but I think John Boehner's resignation will end up being good for the Democrats. Yes, I realize that all his likely successors for Speaker of the House are probably worse. But that just means that the first government shut down or debt ceiling stand-off after October will not end with John Boehner caving and facing the wrath of the Republican base. It will end with some even more radical leader try to hold out a little longer, only to realize as Boehner did that he ultimately has no choice and then inevitably backing down. Only with the next House leader, the stand off will take longer, further damaging the Republican brand outside of the rabid GOP base, and proving, once again, that these clowns are not fit to govern just as we are moving into a Presidential election year. Plus, the Republican base will have higher expectations for the new leader, which means when he inevitably faces reality, their backlash against the new leader will be all the more severe.

Sure, the new House leadership will have an even higher chance of causing real damage to the U.S. economy through another shut down, or a brush with default. But politically speaking, I don't see how Boehner's replacement won't further harm the Republican party at a perfect time for that to happen.

Yeah, I know. All of a sudden I'm Mr. Silver Linings. I promise to go back to my darkly clouded self after the Popepocalypse.

gouging the public for Jesus

I had assumed that all the restaurants closing because security restrictions during the Pope's visit was an unintended consequence. But now I wonder if that was the plan all along.

(via Atrios)