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Strange Logic of the ISIS War

By: Nat Parry Monday September 15, 2014 3:50 pm
A caricature of John Kerry

John Kerry: “We are at war with ISIL but I think it’s a waste of time to focus on that.”

Officials in Washington are inadvertently providing some insight into the strange logic of their nebulous war against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL, in contradictory and puerile statements about whether the military action should be called a war, or perhaps something else.

Backtracking on an earlier statement that the action against ISIS is simply a “counterterrorism operation,” Secretary of State John Kerry clarified in an interview on Sunday that it is, in fact, a “war.”

“In terms of al-Qaeda, which we have used the word ‘war’ with, yeah, we are at war with al-Qaeda and its affiliates,” Kerry said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

“And in the same context if you want to use it, yes, we are at war with ISIL in that sense. But I think it’s a waste of time to focus on that,” Kerry said, adding that there’s “kind of tortured debate going on about terminology.”

On one hand, Kerry may be right that these semantic arguments are something of a distraction, since the debate should be more properly focused on whether the policies of airstrikes are effective, legal, moral and justified, not whether they are called a “war” or a “counterterrorism operation.”

On the other hand, the very fact that we are having this public dispute about which of our military actions qualify as “wars,” which ones are “counterterrorism operations,” and which ones are just run-of-the-mill bombing campaigns should sound the alarm that our political culture of perpetual war is out of control, having reached a bizarre and perilous point about which Americans are increasingly confused and the Constitution is ill-equipped to handle.

Indicative of this strange new normal was a poll released Sept. 4 revealing that few Americans actually know which countries the U.S. is currently bombing. Only about one third of Americans, according to the YouGov survey, knew that the U.S. has not yet conducted strikes in Syria, while 30 percent thought that it has, and the remainder admitted they were unsure.

At the same time, just a quarter of Americans knew that the U.S. military has carried out strikes in Somalia and Pakistan during the past six months, and only 16 percent were aware of strikes in Yemen.

It’s hard to imagine another country on earth in which the citizens could be so confused about which countries were currently being bombed by their government, but then again, no other country on earth is bombing so many other countries so regularly.

When it comes to the strikes targeting ISIS, when administration officials are not arguing about what to call the operation, they seem to be crafting flimsy legal foundations for the strikes by dusting off the 2001 and 2002 Authorizations for the Use of Military Force.

These rationales have not been terribly convincing, with the New York Times pointing out that the 2001 law applied specifically to the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks and al-Qaeda more broadly, but since ISIS is not affiliated with al-Qaeda, the law clearly doesn’t apply to the current situation.

“The fact that al-Qaeda has disavowed ISIS, deeming it too radical, does not seem to prevent the administration from ignoring the logic of the law,” the Times noted.

Meanwhile, the U.S. government has not even bothered to provide a justification for the strikes under international law.

It has instead asserted without elaboration that borders present no constraints to U.S. military action. “We are lifting the restrictions on our air campaigns,” a senior administration official told reporters during a recent background briefing. “We are dealing with an organization that operates freely across a border, and we will not be constrained by that border.”

Under international law, however, borders most certainly do pose constraints. The sanctity of borders is enshrined in the UN Charter in fact, which states, “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.”

One reason for the administration’s silence regarding the international legal basis for the possible use of force against ISIS in Syria is that none exists, since the Bashar al-Assad regime has not consented to the use of force in its territory.

As John Bellinger writes at Lawfare, “This will leave the administration to cobble together a variety of international legal rationales.” Some of these might include the argument that ISIS is part of al-Qaeda and therefore part of the U.S. armed conflict, or perhaps some sort of co-belligerency theory, or perhaps collective self-defense.

“Ultimately,” Bellinger speculates, “the administration may choose not to articulate an international legal basis at all, and instead to cite a variety of factual ‘factors’ that ‘justify’ the use of force, as the Clinton administration did for the Kosovo war. But it would be much preferable for the administration to provide legal reasons.”

 

Extended Surveillance Bill in Turkey: Legal but not Lawful

By: GREYDOG Wednesday November 19, 2008 8:24 am
Cartoon Erdogan holding a Twitter bird.

Erdogan signed more restrictions on Internet freedom into law.

Written by Turkish political analyst / blogger, Gürkan Özturan:

Just days after Turkey hosted thousands of delegates from around the world for the Internet Governance Forum in Istanbul and boasted about policing and pressuring Internet freedoms in the country, a law has been passed in urgency, almost like escaping from fire. The new law allows the Telecommunications Directorate (TIB) – which consists mainly of former spies and about which there was talk of disbanding it to make it an office under the national secret service – to carry out surveillance operations and block access to Web sites without a court order. The law now includes the clauses that were rejected by President Gül when the last update was made in February 2014.

The bill came at a surprise moment when it was not being talked of in the media and was definitely not debated at all. Just days before it was passed at 4 a.m., there was criticism of Turkey’s approach to digital rights and liberties, and while activists were expecting a loosening of censorship, surveillance, and profiling activities by the government and secret service, it just happened to get even worse.

Concerns and worries were expressed by an anonymous EU diplomat based in Ankara, and the Turkish EU minister criticized him/her saying “this is not that person’s business.” The minister continued his remarks, saying “This is only in times of national security, not on a regular basis,” referring to the clause of the new bill that states that “this bill can be applied in matters related to national security, public order, and prevention of crimes” yet failed to address exactly what constitutes a breach of national security. One can remember the 2013 Gezi Uprising and how it was labeled a “coup attempt,” activists were declared “traitors,” and the millions who supported the uprising were called “terrorists.”

From Miners to Censorship

Drafting of the reform package began upon the death of 302 miners in a terrible mining tragedy, due to lack of security precautions; yet the draft bill evolved to address censorship, surveillance, and profiling cases. President Erdoğan approved the bill on the 34th anniversary of the 1980  military coup, Friday September 12 – thus initiating a new level of obstacles to rights and liberties.

Raiding of the TIB

The TIB was raided last February and several top managers were replaced after some phone conversations were leaked on the Internet revealing the biggest corruption scandal in history involving the Turkish government. Now the new team will probably be using the “server-ville” facilities just nearby the capital city, where all telecommunications data are being stored. When combined with the plans to install the NetClean and Procera software throughout the country’s telecommunications backbone, this new bill allows the Turkish secret service to become nothing less than a digital Gestapo. It may be legal to carry out such actions in Turkey, but for sure it is not lawful.

Russian-Style Tight Control

Turkey now prepares for yet another stranglehold on digital rights and freedoms. In October there will be a new bill in the parliament which will address Internet and press publishers. The new law is much like the Russian bloggers’ bill, requiring all digitally published content creators to reveal their names, addresses, and contact details on the Web site, make all content available for at least a year without the possibility of deletion, and comply with already tightened media laws in the country. The new bill is set to mainly target citizen journalism platforms, including bloggers.

Mining the Earth: 16 Sep 2014

By: KateCA Tuesday September 16, 2014 10:29 am
Asteroid Mining image -- a satellite landing on a asteroid with the Earth in space as a backdrop

Fracking: coming to an asteroid near you?

Mining the Earth

*Everywhere. Intriguing chart out of Finland showing when various resources obtained by various extraction methods will be depleted. So, what plans do our policy-makers have in mind to meet these challenges?

*USA. Since they can’t seem to accomplish much else, the US Congress is turning its attention to the business of mining asteroids.

*AZUpdate on the suit about resumption of uranium mining around the Grand Canyon: The US District Judge is to rule within two weeks.

*KY, VA, WV. Guess what’s making a comeback: “A Debilitating and Entirely Preventable Respiratory Disease among Working Coal Miners.”   Progressive Massive Fibrosis among coal miners was virtually eliminated only 15 years ago but is back and “can only be due to overexposures and/or increased toxicity stemming from changes in dust composition.” Shameful.

*VA. VA’s Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy is working “to restore streams damaged by coal mining that took place a century ago” in Russell County. Companies that want to mine in previously mined areas must have plans for reclaiming the land, which has led so far to “21 miles of streams cleaned up in the coalfields right now.” One such project, in Dumps Creek, will cost about $3.35 million.

*WV.  Transition ahead as “declining coal markets, mine closures and efforts to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions” make their impact on coal mining communities in the state, particularly in Boone, Marshall, Mingo, McDowell and Wyoming Counties. To ease the shock of transition, the US Department of Labor has provided $7.4 million for retraining and reemployment services—although the industry reportedly does not want the workers retrained.

*WV.  Trans Energy has agreed with the US Environmental Protection Agency and WV’s Department of Environmental Protection “to restore portions of streams and wetlands in West Virginia that were damaged by natural gas extraction activities.” 15 sites, polluted by “unauthorized discharge of dredge or fill materials,” are included in the clean-up as well as a $3 million payment.

*WV.  The Obama administration set out to take “‘unprecedented steps’ to protect the environment [in Appalachia] from the effects of mountaintop removal coal mining.” After five years, results have been “mixed.” Environmentalists want more action and protections while “the mining industry says the government’s actions have taken a toll on Appalachian economies.” Mountaintop mining reportedly has taken its toll in terms of “birth defects, cancer and lower life expectancy, among other issues.”

*WV. Lawsuit filed in Monongalia County Circuit Court by a mine worker who says “she was fired because she did not donate to Murray [Energy] CEO Robert Murray’s preferred political candidates” and also because she’s female. Murray Energy disputes her claims and will “vigorously defend against her.” The political candidates Murray wanted $200 contributions given to were Republican (surprise!) Senate candidates “Scott Brown in New Hampshire, Edward Gillespie in Virginia, Terri Land in Michigan, and Mike McFadden in Minnesota.” Who can forget the “stunning visual” Robert Murray achieved when his mine workers stood behind Mitt Romney during a presidential campaign rally in OH a few years ago?

*Canada. The President of the Mining Association of Canada discussed the “high cost of doing business in Canada” and offered this solution:  “government needs to partner with mining companies” by building infrastructure needed by the mining companies, which will also benefit First Nations peoples. The benefits of “reaching out” to aboriginal communities was referred to several times.

*OntarioMines Minister has been “scolded” by several First Nations Chiefs about the absence of First Nations representatives on the Ring of Fire Infrastructure Development Corp. Chiefs from the Eabametoong First Nation, the Long Lake #58 First Nation, the Neskantaga First Nation and the Matawa Chiefs Council and others have complained. The Minister responded “we absolutely respect Aboriginal and Treaty rights”.

*British Columbia. The Tahitan First Nation “has banned [Fortune Minerals] from its lands as a bitter fight over a proposed [open pit] coal mine escalates, again.” In other action, the Klabona Keepers of the Tahitan Nation “have shut down an exploratory [copper-gold] drilling operation by taking over the site” known as the Sacred Headwaters (of the Stikine, Skeena and Nass Rivers). They shut down Black Hawk’s big drill; Black Hawk responded by airlifting its workers out. Video.

*British Columbia. The Tsilhqot’in First Nation has proposed a 3,000 square kilometer park and incorporated an area around Fish Lake which just happens to include a proposed mining site. The Vice President of Taseko, which wants to develop a gold and copper mine there (twice rejected by the government) said “We really don’t know what that means when that declaration is made by some local First Nations.” Perhaps he’ll be finding out.

*Saskatchewan. All 96 miners trapped in a potash mine due to a fire were finally rescued, though some 54 workers had to remain in underground smoky refuge stations since some of the fans used to clear the smoke broke down. The fire started in a water truck inside the mine.

A Modest Proposal for Dealing with ISIS or ISIL or Whatever

By: Ohio Barbarian Monday September 15, 2014 2:46 pm
The last sultan saluted by soldiers as he leaves his role after the end of the sultanate.

The last Sultan of the Ottoman Empire abolished his role in 1922. If we revived the Empire to fight ISIS, nothing could possibly go wrong.

Well, you’ve probably heard a lot lately about all of the proposals being put forth to deal with the Brand New and Improved Terrorist Threat of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria(ISIS), or as the current Fascist President of the United States calls it, the Islamic State in the Levant(ISIL), or whatever you want to call that genocidal pack of Wahhabist(I think) Sunni Muslim religious fanatics who’ve made a fair amount of progress in establishing their very own Islamic Caliphate in portions of Syria and Iraq in recent months.

Obama, chastened from the American public’s rejection a year ago of a Brand New Shiny War in Syria and by his grossly stupid underestimation of Russian resolve where it comes to Ukraine,  driven by corporate concerns about the safety of Iraqi oil fields (which he never mentions, BTW), and the constant beating of the war drums from everyone from Hillary Clinton to Lindsay Graham to (again, never mentioned) American weapons manufacturers, is for an air campaign against ISIS supported by various Arab “boots on the ground.”

The war hawks, like Graham and John McCain, want to send in the American Army and Marines. It doesn’t matter that that approach turned out so well in Iraq and Afghanistan, but hey, send in the troops often enough and sooner or later it’s bound to work out, right?

Yeah. Right.

Don’t these fools know their history? There’s a simple solution. When was the last time what we call Syria and Iraq were more or less peaceful and stable for centuries?

I’m waiting. Bueller? Bueller?

Yes! When they were both ruled by the Ottoman Empire!

The Turks controlled that whole area for at least 500 years. There wasn’t much war in the region, the imperial government in Constantinople(er, Istanbul) pretty much let the locals run their own affairs so long as everybody mostly paid their taxes, saluted the red flag with the Crescent and Star, and didn’t harass or kill imperial Turkish officials or anything like that.

And the great thing is that the Turks are still around! Why not arm the Turks with those A-10 Warthogs that are being decommissioned,  give them a bunch of Patton and Abrams tanks, helicopter gunships, and old F-16′s and tell them to go forth and re-establish their Empire as it existed in, say, 1914? That would include Palestine, I mean Israel, I mean both, but they could be autonomous provinces subject to the heel of the Turkish boot. Arab-Israeli conflict solved! That would include Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon, too. Assad could become a Turkish bashar or be executed, his choice. ISIS? Well, the Turks could just genocide their ass. I’ve heard Armenians say they have some experience in that department, and who cares about a bunch of fanatical ragheads, anyway?

Yeah, Kuwait, Yemen, and the east and west coasts of Saudi Arabia would go to the Turks, too, but it was Saudis who carried out 9/11 anyway, so screw ‘em. I’m sure the Turks would make very reasonable oil deals with the West, too, so long as they got a reasonable cut for themselves to help solve their own domestic problems. The House of Saud could retreat to the inner desert where Lawrence of Arabia found them back in World War I. They’d still be rich and, if they fought, well, the Turks could deal with them, too.

We can revisit the situation in a few centuries and see whether or not it needs any tweaking. Who knows? The Turks might even rediscover their inner Mustafa Kemal and just secularize everything. Wouldn’t that be a shame? Hell, they might even let women dress as they please and let them vote!

Why not? Well, I’m sure there’s a whole host of good reasons why not, but is my modest proposal really any sillier than what is being floated about by our so-called leaders?

Standard and Poor’s Says Inequality Suppresses Economic Growth and State Revenue

By: WI Budget Project Tuesday September 16, 2014 6:56 am
Standard & Poor's HQ in NY

Even Wall Street rating agency Standard & Poor’s sounds the alarm on income inequality.

Concerns about increases in income inequality were voiced from a surprising perspective today, when Standard and Poor’s (the bond rating agency) issued a lengthy report titled “Income Inequality Weighs On State Tax Revenues.” The report concludes that “disparity is contributing to weaker tax revenue growth by weakening the rate of overall economic expansion.”

The authors offer this explanation for the correlation between income disparities and economic growth:

…rising income inequality is a macroeconomic factor that acts as a drag on growth. There is evidence, although not conclusive at this point, that the higher savings rates of those with high incomes causes aggregate consumer spending to suffer. And since one person’s spending is another person’s income, the result is slower overall personal income growth despite continued strong income gains at the top.

An article in today’s Washington Post sums up the findings in clearer terms:

Even as income has accelerated for the affluent, it has barely kept pace with inflation for most other people. That trend can mean a double whammy for states: The wealthy often manage to shield much of their income from taxes. And they tend to spend less of it than others do, thereby limiting sales tax revenue.

The new report provides an argument against relying solely or primarily on sales tax revenue. It concludes that the correlation between income inequality and slower revenue growth “was stronger in the sales tax-reliant states than it was for the income tax-dependent states.” Keep that in mind if Wisconsin lawmakers dust off the idea the Governor floated last year of possibly eliminating the state income tax and replacing that revenue with a huge boost in sales tax revenue.

The Standard and Poor’s report says that its analysis “suggests that through a progressive tax structure, it’s possible to counteract much of the depressing effect inequality has on tax revenue growth rates.” It adds a caution that more progressive tax structures can also increase revenue volatility. Although that’s a relevant consideration, I don’t think it’s an argument against progressive income taxes. Instead it’s a reason for relying on a balanced mix of tax sources, including a progressive income tax, and for setting aside budget reserves during periods of strong revenue growth.

Independence Yea or Nay?

By: Elliott Saturday July 7, 2012 5:15 pm

England really has been a bit of dick towards Scotland (as John Oliver puts it) — going all the way back to “The Hammer of the Scots,” King Edward I, who apparently made it his life’s mission, his Great Cause, to conquer Scotland. After he whipped Wales’s ass, that is.

I wouldn’t dare insert myself in the upcoming “Yea or Nay” on the referendum for Scotland’s independence, but here’s Groundskeeper Willie to explain the vote:

Now both sides of this argument have valid points…

 
But John Oliver, the British ex-pat, wants Scotland to stay. He’s begging. You’ll be disappointed if you’re expecting a rump shot though (I was).

 

Obligatory Sean Connery pic:

Sean Connery with members of the United States Air Force Reserve’s Pipe and Drum Band, Tartan Day, 2004. That’s a Clan Maclean hunting tartan btw

 

Bautista, Crisp-Sauray, and McKibben: A Future to March For

By: Tom Engelhardt Tuesday July 26, 2011 6:09 pm

 

It was June 12, 1982. My daughter was still in her stroller, my son as yet unborn, when my wife and I, six friends, and another child in a stroller joined an estimated million people in New York City at the largest antinuclear protest in history. All of the adults in our party had grown up in a world unsettled in a unique way: Armageddon had, for the first time, potentially become a secular event. End times were no longer God’s choice for us, but ours for ourselves. It seemed no mistake that, three decades into the Cold War, the nuclear readiness of the two superpowers was referred to as “mutual assured destruction,” about as graphic a phrase as you could find for the end of civilization; and, of course, it had its own acronym which, to us at least, seemed less like an abbreviation than sardonic commentary: MAD.

In 1979, a near-catastrophe at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in Pennsylvania helped launch a new iteration of the antinuclear movement. Initially, it was focused on “peaceful” nuclear power, and then, amid a renewed superpower arms race, on the potential destruction of the planet in a MAD conflagration; in the atmosphere of that moment, that is, we found ourselves living with a renewed sense that the world might not be ours or anyone else’s for long.

The first nuclear weapon had been detonated at the White Sands Proving Ground in New Mexico on July 16, 1945, just four days before I turned one, which meant world-ending fears and dreams would be woven into my life. So, with a child of my own, it felt right to be in that giant crowd of protestors, marching near a contingent of hibakusha, or survivors, from the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic blasts that had, thanks to America’s “victory weapon,” ushered in the nuclear age.

In 1991, only nine years later, the Soviet Union, that other superpower, would disappear. If you had told me then, with the Berlin Wall down and not an enemy in sight, that almost a quarter of a century later — with two of our 1982 marchers dead — most of the rest of us would be planning to meet and march again, lest our children’s children have no world worth living in, I would have been surprised indeed. And I would have been no less surprised to learn that the U.S. and Russia still preserve, update, and upgrade monstrous nuclear arsenals that contain enough weapons to destroy a number of Earth-sized planets, or that those weapons continue to proliferate globally, or that, as we now know (given the “nuclear winter” phenomenon), even a “modest” regional nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan could result in an event of unimaginable horror for humanity. Told all this, I would undoubtedly have wondered where the then-much-talked-about post-Cold War “peace dividend” had gone.

Had you also told me that, on September 21, 2014, I would be planning to be out with my wife, my old friends, my son, my daughter, my son-in-law, and my grandson marching in New York City, but this time against a second human-produced potential apocalypse, and that it was already happening in something like slow motion, I would have been stunned.

And yet so it is, and there I will be at the People’s Climate March, and I wouldn’t be anywhere else that day. At some future moment, wouldn’t it be sad to say that humanity’s greatest achievement was to exploit to the fullest two energy sources — the atom and fossil fuels — capable of destroying the basis for our lives on this planet, and potentially much other life as well? What a strange possible epitaph for humanity: what we burned burned us.

At 70, this world won’t be mine for that much longer, so it’s not a matter of my life or my planet, but I only have to look at my grandson to know what’s at stake, to know that this is not the world he or his peers deserve. To make global warming his inheritance could represent the greatest crime in history, which means that those who run the giant energy companies (and the oil states that go with them) and who know better will be the ultimate criminals.

No single march, of course, will alter the tide — or perhaps I mean the greenhouse gases — of history, but you have to begin somewhere (and then not stop). And to do so, you have to believe that the human ability to destroy isn’t the best we have to offer and to remind yourself of our ability to protest, to hope, to dream, to act, and to say no to the criminals of history and yes to the children to come. Tom

Why We March
Stepping Forth for a Planet in Peril
By Eddie Bautista, La Tonya Crisp-Sauray, and Bill McKibben

On Sunday, September 21st, a huge crowd will march through the middle of Manhattan. It will almost certainly be the largest rally about climate change in human history, and one of the largest political protests in many years in New York. More than 1,000 groups are coordinating the march — environmental justice groups, faith groups, labor groups — which means there’s no one policy ask. Instead, it’s designed to serve as a loud and pointed reminder to our leaders, gathering that week at the United Nations to discuss global warming, that the next great movement of the planet’s citizens centers on our survival and their pathetic inaction.

As a few of the march’s organizers, though, we can give some sense of why we, at least, are marching, words we think represent many of those who will gather at Columbus Circle for the walk through midtown Manhattan.

Over Easy: Radio as Art

By: cmaukonen Tuesday September 16, 2014 4:50 am

1937 Airline Miracle – flickr creative commons

Good Morning All

With all the insanity in the world today I thought I would go back when life was considerably more sane and calm and comforting. When Art Deco reached its peak and Radio was king.

The Art Deco movement influenced nearly everything, from auto-mobile design to skyscrapers. And of course radios, large and small. The internals of these radios did not vary much from model to model or even from manufacturer to manufacturer but the cabinetry was quite elegant. Like this high-end Philco or the crème de la crème, the Zenith 1000 Stratosphere – Zenith’s top of the line model for 1935. Manufacturers wanted their radios to look good as well as sound good.

There were classic table models and cathedral designs and the so called tombstone models as well. Or this chair side radio by Zenith.

The wood cabinets were handmade in a lot of cases and had inlays and very fine finishing. For someone with the bucks to spend they still can be had but for a price. Some going for in excess of a thousand dollars restored. They are very, very collectible and people will go to extremes to restore and refinish the cabinets. I even found a web site that documented one person taking the radio chassis inside completely apart down to the last nut and bolt and cleaning and rebuilding it. OY!

Here are a few of the more unusual ones.

RCA Worlds Fair

RCA San Francisco

Zenith Louis XV

Stewart Warner

 

And many others, including Bakelite cabinets and plastic. But by the late 1960s fancy cabinetry was all but gone.  Replaced by simple, mostly plastic shells. Functionality and cost-conscious consumers ruled the day. Even the large console televisions were on the way out.

So if you will remove your ear buds for a minute, here is what radio use to be like.

Off topic is on topic here. What’s on every one’s mind?