Stealing money from Bad countries is OK, right?

Eli Lake, whose credibility fell off a wall and shattered sometime around 2003 and still hasn’t been put back together, despite the best efforts of all the king’s horses and all the king’s men,

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is very mad today because the United States is sending military aid to Iran (when we should be sending cruise missiles directly to downtown Tehran, amirite?). No, this isn’t like that time in the 1980s when Ronald Reagan illegally sold weapons to Iran because Israel wanted him to and so that he could use the proceeds to fund right-wing death squads in Central America. No, this time it’s Actually Bad! America is “inadvertently paying” for an increase in Iran’s military budget! Check it out:

It all starts with $1.7 billion the U.S. Treasury transferred to Iran’s Central Bank in January, during a delicate prisoner swap and the implementation of last summer’s nuclear deal to resolve a long-standing dispute about Iran’s arms purchases before the revolution of 1979.

For months it was unclear what Iran’s government would do with this money. But last month the mystery was solved when Iran’s Guardian Council approved the government’s 2017 budget that instructed Iran’s Central Bank to transfer the $1.7 billion to the military.

Oh damn, that’s incontrovertible right there! Sure, Iran’s total 2017 military budget, including the increase and going with Lake’s own figures, is about $19 billion, compared to somewhere just shy of $600 billion for the US, but…well, actually, that’s a really big difference. Anyway here’s the deal with that $1.7 billion: it’s not actually America’s money. Lake again:

Republicans and some Democrats who opposed Obama’s nuclear deal have argued that the end of some sanctions would help to fund Iran’s military. But at least that was Iran’s money already (albeit frozen in overseas bank accounts). The $1.7 billion that Treasury transferred to Iran in January is different.

A portion of it, $400 million, came from a trust fund comprising money paid by the government of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, a U.S. ally, for arms sold to Iran before the 1979 revolution. Those sales were cut off in 1979 after revolutionaries took over the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and held the American staff hostage for 444 days. The remaining $1.3 billion represents interest on the $400 million principle over more than 36 years.

You can probably already see the problem with Lake’s logic, but…you know what? It’s late, it’s Friday, so I’m going to farm this one out to Ali Gharib at LobeLog: Continue reading

If it were any other candidate…

Maybe I’m missing something here, but a candidate who wins two of his or her party’s first three primaries (caucuses, whatever), and has significant, if not commanding, leads in polling for most of the next round of primaries (at least those for which any decent polling exists), should be considered the prohibitive favorite to win his or her party’s nomination, no? Well, guess what?

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Meet your prohibitive Republican favorite!

If there were any doubts as to who has come out of the Republican gate in the best shape, Saturday’s South Carolina primary should have buried them. But for a race that looks pretty lopsided to me, the humble layperson, there’s still an awful lot of coverage being focused on the race for second place, which now looks like it’s between Ted Cruz (R-TheworstMrsDoubtfirecosplayconventionever) and Marco Rubio (R-LetsdispelwiththisfictionthatBarackObamadoesntknowwhathesdoingHeknowsexactlywhat hesdoing).

Rubio in particular stretched the bounds of credulity on Saturday when he gave what sounded pretty much like a victory speech, for finishing second (barely). Such a distant second, in fact, that he may not have won a single delegate. Rubio is telling people that “the real Republican primary” is just starting now, although I figure after he loses again in Nevada tomorrow he’ll go on TV on Wednesday and say “I mean…now.” Cruz is touting the fact that he’s already beaten Trump once this cycle, which is nice, but, you know, not really enough to win the nomination.

Implicit in this heated race to be Trump’s runner-up is the notion that Trump is running on borrowed time until he eventually does or says something that causes his campaign to derail. Have people who still think this is going to happen actually been watching the campaign so far? What else do you think he could say that would finally cause him to lose support? Even losing in Iowa, which I actually thought might puncture his aura of invincibility, has apparently had no effect. Continue reading

Forget it Jake, it’s the Iowa Caucus

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Here’s a true fact about me: every time I hear somebody talk about “caucuses” I hear it as “Caucasus,” like we’ve turned over our presidential nominating process to Armenia and Azerbaijan. And then I catch myself, think about it for a couple of seconds, and usually say “you know, we really ought to turn our presidential nominating process over to Armenia and Azerbaijan.” If you think that’s a bad idea, consider that we’ve given Iowa, a state that’s too white and too rural to really represent the United States, and the caucus process, an arcane, over-complicated mess of a thing that only attracts a small fraction of the state’s eligible voters to participate, pride of place in winnowing out the primary fields and setting the media narrative for the races. We might as well hand the thing off to a couple of former Soviet republics. At least those folks might be a bit interested in foreign policy.

Now that I’m a serious Twitter user, which I wasn’t four years ago because I was much smarter then, I realize that caucus night is only the appetizer for post-caucus morning, a veritable buffet of ridiculous, self-serving, half-baked takes that stretches as far as the eye can see. This morning, for example, I learned that Iowa went wrong for Hillary Clinton, who’s better off after last night’s “virtual tie” than Bernie Sanders, who had a “surprising success” even though he “needs more than he got” in order to win the nomination. On the Republican side, Ted Cruz won a great victory and Donald Trump suffered a serious setback by finishing in second place, but the night’s big winner was Marco Rubio, who came in third. Cruz’s victory staked him to a whopping one delegate lead in the Republican primary, over Trump and Rubio at 7 delegates each. Rubio is now poised to win the Republican primary by consolidating the “establishment vote,” which if the polls are right tops out at about 20-25% of the electorate nationally, or less than Trump usually polls on his own.

It’s fitting, really, that the morning after this year’s caucus happens to coincide with Groundhog Day. Caucus Day and Groundhog Day. One is devoted to an outdated superstition, wherein normally intelligent people treat a meaningless and subjective event as though it has some kind of real predictive power. The other is Groundhog Day.

Here’s the thing: Iowa doesn’t produce winners. Continue reading

The opposite effect

The Washington Post‘s editorial board wrote a pretty blistering attack on Bernie Sanders and his “fiction-filled campaign” last night. It includes a few fair points–Sanders does tend to brush off questions about the very real legislative challenges his agenda would face with a lot of way-too-optimistic talk about “political revolutions” and the like–and a bunch of vapid centrist dogma being presented as though it were Received Wisdom–apparently all the bad parts of our massive and unstable financial sector are gone now and we must never speak ill of them again. Also, don’t give me bullshit like “Mr. Sanders’s story continues with fantastical claims about how he would make the European social model work in the United States” unless you’re also prepared to acknowledge that part of the reason those claims seem so fantastical is because our political system and our news media suck out loud when it comes to representing the interests of anybody outside the oligarch class.

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On the other hand, his hair is frequently not up to Post standards, so I’ll give them that

Anyway, I’m not here to defend Sanders. I’m approaching this election the way I approach most elections: looking to vote against the worse of the two candidates, which is almost certainly going to be whoever gets the Republican nomination. I also happen to be the rare foreign policy voter (we do exist), and while I am generally sympathetic to Sanders’ lefty orientation, his foreign policy (to the extent he has one) is a mixed bag at best. Clinton’s is objectively worse, don’t get me wrong, but still not as bad as Donald “take the oil” Trump’s, or Ted “let’s find out if sand can glow in the dark” Cruz’s, or Marco “Project for the New American Century” Rubio’s. I am kind of here to complain about WaPo’s editorial page, because the viewpoint it usually pushes is genuinely harmful to the country and the planet, but I digress.

What I started wondering after I finished reading the WaPo screed is, can a newspaper endorsement ever work in reverse? Or, in this case, can a newspaper un-endorsement ever work in reverse? It seems clear that, even in this modern internet age, they can still work as intended–when the New Hampshire Union Leader endorsed Chris Christie, it vaulted him from afterthought to serious player in New Hampshire (although he’s still pretty much an afterthought everywhere else). But here we have a candidate running an explicitly “anti-Establishment” (so explicit that it’s led him to say some dumb things from time to time) campaign being called an unserious hack by maybe the most Establishment of newspapers. Everything about this op-ed plays into Sanders’ narrative, including the fact that it was produced under the supervision of an editorial page editor, the notorious Fred Hiatt, whose consistently and thoroughly neoconservative views on foreign policy have made his name something of a punchline among the kind of people who might be sympathetic to a Sanders campaign. Sanders has already pointed that last part out, by the way.

Plus, this is DC’s newspaper of record trashing a candidate for office at a time when, you know, plenty of people in the rest of the country don’t think so highly of DC. That might be relevant, or it might not, I’m just wondering.

So my question is, could the Post‘s obviously loathing for Sanders actually be good for Sanders? I don’t think it will swing Iowa to him or anything, but I also don’t think it’s going to cause Sanders supporters, or undecideds for that matter, to start rushing for the exits.

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Reflexive bothsiderism

In case you’ve been out of the loop for the past couple of weeks, the city of Flint, Michigan, was poisoning its citizens via their water supply from April 2014 through December. This catastrophic failure occurred because of a short-sighted austerity measure put in place by Michigan’s Republican Governor Rick Snyder and the emergency manager he set in place to run Flint in lieu of its elected government. They decided that it would be cheaper to draw Flint’s water out of Lake Huron than to keep the city connected to Detroit’s water system, and while a pipeline to the lake was being built they thought it would be a good idea to draw the city’s water out of the Flint River, whose water promptly corroded the pipes and caused heavy metals to leach into Flint’s tap water. It should have been immediately apparent that the water was undrinkable, and scientific studies later showed that it was unfit for human consumption, but Snyder and his manager ignored the evidence until it became impossible to ignore any longer. Now Flint has to be reconnected to Detroit’s water system, but in the meantime we’ve managed to afflict a whole bunch of children with, among other things, lead poisoning.

Yesterday, in National Journal, professional scold Ron Fournier, a Michigan native who apparently has a house just outside of Flint, wrote a pretty scathing column about how the people of Flint have been failed by nearly every level of American public society. Fournier is right, this was a huge failure at every level, and he even includes himself among the people who failed:

As I was knock­ing around Flint, a city neg­lected and ul­ti­mately poisoned by every level of gov­ern­ment, my thoughts kept drift­ing to two phrases: “re­fresh­ing ap­proach” and “in noth­ing we trust.”

The first phrase is my de­scrip­tion, in a column last month, of Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s lead­er­ship style. What was I think­ing? More on that later.

Don’t buy a bottle of water from this guy

Snyder’s failure is obvious and should, but won’t, cost him his job. And there’s even a legitimate “Thanks, Obama!” component to this story: the administrator for the EPA region that includes Michigan, Susan Hed­man, knew at least as far back as June that the Flint water was poisoning people, and she did…nothing. She blames “protocol” for her failure to say anything, but screw that. Tens of thousands of people were drinking contaminated water, to hell with protocol. Hedman works for Obama’s EPA, so ultimately this is partly Obama’s problem, even though he seems not to be acknowledging it amid his response to the crisis.

There, Both Sides are to blame! Plus we got to fall on our own sword! A perfect Ron Fournier Column, right?

Well, no. Continue reading

Hopes for war once again dashed by peace, thanks Obama

As they said they would, this morning the Iranians released all ten of those detained US sailors and their boats. It seems pretty apparent (because the US isn’t challenging it) that both boats did somehow slip into Iranian territorial waters before they were picked up by the Revolutionary Guard Navy, although the initial story that one of the boats was malfunctioning may not have been accurate, so the cause is still unknown (signs now are pointing to a navigational error rather than a mechanical problem). All told, the sailors and their boats were in Iranian custody for less than 24 hours. They recorded a video “apology” for violating Iranian waters, which is maybe a little distasteful, but this could have been a lot worse, really, so people are pretty relieved at how it played out.

Well, most people. There are those whose tough-guy response to this incident yesterday suggests that they’re probably feeling a little disappointed at how smoothly the situation was resolved. My technical issues today kept me from writing about them, but luckily other people have done so and I can just link to their stuff. Ah, the internet.

Daniel Drezner at The Washington Post listed a few of the most macho reactions: Continue reading

How does something like this get published?

Suki Kim is an investigative journalist who has done some incredible reporting out of and about North Korea, some of the best/only real reporting anybody outside of North Korea has ever read. She actually spent six months living in North Korea ostensibly teaching English to the sons of the regime’s elite, but in reality taking notes (which she had to hide from everybody she encountered) for a book that she published in 2014. She’s spoken to defectors who fled the country. I wouldn’t presume to know a twentieth of what she knows about North Korea. On the other hand, I’m not sure she’s got a great grasp of basic war and peace type stuff. In The New Republic (on sale cheap, per issue or you could buy the whole thing if you like) today, Kim makes, to borrow a phrase, a very serious, thoughtful argument that has never been made in such detail or with such care: Continue reading