These gasses aren’t going to light themselves

Devin Nunes, chair of the House Intelligence Committee (MOTTO: “Searching for Intelligence in the House of Representatives Since 1977”), contributed his best effort yesterday to the ongoing Republican war on objective reality. With the White House facing Congressional investigation over alleged Trump campaign ties to Russia and over President Trump’s thus-far completely unsupported accusation that the Obama administration eavesdropped on his campaign/transition team’s communications, Nunes learned a shocking fairly mundane bit of information and immediately took it to his committee for investigation ran to brief the White House and then helped them use this information to publicly obfuscate the investigations.

What Nunes found out–possibly based on “evidence” he was given by the Trump administration itself–was that members of Trump’s transition team did have some of their communications intercepted after the election. This obviously relates, but only superficially, to Trump’s allegations that his people were being spied upon by the Obama administration, which has gotten folded into the Intelligence Committee’s investigation into the Russia/election story. Given that Trump is the focus of that investigation, and Nunes is supposed to be the lead investigator, his decision to relay this information to the Trump White House, and then to the media, before the other members of his own committee was telling, to say the least.

Naturally, Trump later used Nunes’s information to claim he was vindicated on his wiretapping charges, but the truth is that one has nothing to do with the other. Some Trump communications may have been collected by the NSA because they involved foreign leaders, and the NSA works very hard to collect any communications involving foreign leaders. Nothing in what Nunes found actually supports the claim that Trump or his people were being wiretapped. Even Nunes isn’t really saying that it does, instead falling back on pedantic bullshit when asked if the Obama administration was spying on Trump’s transition: “It all depends on one’s definition of spying.” In fact, although he said he’d found evidence that Trump “communications” were collected, it now seems that what Nunes actually found was that conversations related to Trump were collected–or, in other words, that the NSA had captured conversations in which people in Trump’s circle were discussed, but didn’t participate themselves. If that’s all Nunes found, then it literally says nothing whatsoever about Trump’s spying claims.

(There may be– I say may be, because it seems like a bad idea to just trust Nunes on this–a problem with how the NSA/intelligence community handled whatever it collected. Information about Americans that’s picked up in this kind of surveillance is supposed to be “masked” absent probable cause, and that may not have been properly handled in this case. But that still doesn’t have anything to do with the accusation that Trump’s people were being directly monitored.)

But we’ve seen this game played out many times now, enough times to know that it doesn’t matter that Nunes still says there’s no evidence that the government wiretapped the Trump transition. It doesn’t matter that Nunes now says he probably shouldn’t have run to the White House and then the nearest TV camera with this information before he went back to the committee he’s supposed to be running. It doesn’t matter that to any objective observer, Devin Nunes has now shown that he’s incapable of investigating the Trump administration. All that matters is that the right-wing gaslighting Wurlitzer got enough fuel to keep churning out disinformation until the next big story breaks and knocks this one out of the public consciousness.

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Paul Ryan: Policy Wank

OH. MY. GAWD. He’s so wonky and neat! And so smart! Other politicians don’t get into the policy and really understand it the way Paul–I’m allowed to call him Paul, he told me one night while I was staring into his eyes on TV–does. What brilliant thing did he say today?

Well, he’s not wrong–healthy people subsidizing sick people is the “whole idea of Obamacare.” In fact, it’s the whole idea of health insurance. Policy genius Paul Ryan doesn’t know how insurance works. Paul’s solution to this problem, amazingly, isn’t to get rid of health insurance and adopt true universal healthcare like every other industrialized nation on the fucking planet. His solution, now with three times the wonkiness, is apparently that the government will “subsidize” health care for sick people so that the insurance market can strictly deal with healthy ones. That’s…not how insurance works, and there is no way in hell that his plan will actually appropriate enough money to pay for the health care of anybody with a pre-existing condition.

What Ryan is doing is, in some dialects of English other than Media English, called “lying,” which is this thing where somebody says something they know not to be true in order to convey a falsehood to his or her audience. As long as we insist on maintaining the supremely fucked up private for profit health insurance business, the only way that insurance companies can afford to take on sick people is if they also take on a bunch of healthy people who probably don’t want to buy insurance. This leads to all the shittiest parts of the ACA–the mandate, the garbage high deductible policies, etc. But if you want to get rid of those shitty parts, you have two choices: enact genuine health care reform, like single-payer, or tell people with pre-existing conditions to go fuck themselves. Republicans won’t do the former, obviously–hell, Democrats don’t even want to do the former–and they can’t do the latter because Politics.

So instead, Ryan has to play this game where he pretends to care about people with pre-existing conditions with his pretend fix that can’t work, knowing full well that when the rubber hits the road, he and the rest of his party would gladly stick every sick person in America on an ice floe in the Arctic Sea if it meant they could finance another massive tax cut for Paul Singer et al. But they have to bullshit the public for now, and despite the fact that they’ve collectively fallen for the same completely made-up “Paul Ryan: The Wonk Who Cares” myth over and over and over again for the better part of two decades, our media still hasn’t learned that Paul Ryan isn’t a wonk and doesn’t actually care.

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More than one way to skin a very crooked cat

Here’s a little tip from the Republican Party for all you little people out there: make your own world. Don’t rely on others to get the job done for you. Only you can control your destiny. It’s on your shoulders. That’s the American way.

For example, if you are having a problem adhering to basic ethical guidelines:

In an extraordinary move, Office of Government Ethics Director Walter Shaub publicly stated on Wednesday that President-elect Donald Trump did not consult with his office to formulate his plan to hand his billion-dollar real estate and licensing company off to his two adult sons.

Shaub said in an online livestream conducted by the Brookings Institution that Trump’s plan “doesn’t meet the standard that the best of nominees are meeting and that every president of the past four decades has met.”

“OGE’s primary recommendation is that he divest his conflicting assets,” he said. “Nothing short of divestiture will resolve these conflicts.” He added, “I don’t think divestiture is too high a price to pay to be the president of the United States of America.”

then get it together! You’re a grown human being, for Pete’s sake, so start acting like one! Get out there and do what you need to do to be an ethical person get rid of those pain in the ass people trying to enforce the guidelines:

The Republican chairman of the House Oversight Committee on Thursday issued a stern letter, including a veiled threat of an investigation, to the federal government’s top ethics monitor, who this week had questioned President-elect Donald J. Trump’s commitment to confront his potential conflicts of interest.

In an unusual action against the independent Office of Government Ethics, Representative Jason Chaffetz of Utah accused the office’s director, Walter M. Shaub Jr., of “blurring the line between public relations and official ethics guidance.”

He cited a bizarre series of Twitter posts that the office made in late November congratulating Mr. Trump for divesting from his business — even though Mr. Trump had made no such commitment. Mr. Chaffetz also said that the office had failed to adequately investigate Hillary Clinton, based on allegations that she had not properly disclosed fees paid for speeches she gave after leaving her post as secretary of state.

The OGE’s failure to adequately investigate the woman who no longer does and probably never again will hold any position in the federal government is particularly egregious and I applaud Congressman Tim Curry’s Character from Home Alone 2 if You Hit Him Square in the Face With a Cast Iron Pan for bringing it up. This aggression will not stand, man.

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Conflict update: January 4 2017

I’m hoping this will be a short one tonight, but I never know until I actually start writing. It’s like a fun mystery we get to explore together.

Well, not really.

United Nations

Senators Statler and Waldorf John McCain and Lindsey Graham are among the Republicans leading a push to cut much or all US funding for the UN, because the UN Security Council had the temerity to pass a completely toothless resolution that recognizes Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory for what they are. Since the US pays for about a fifth of the UN’s operations, cutting all US funding would be a pretty devastating blow and would also be a tremendously self-defeating move for a bunch of people who claim to care about America’s leadership role in world affairs.

I’d say that Senate Democrats might filibuster such a ridiculous and dangerous move, but Senate Democrats are now led by Chuck Schumer (D-AIPAC), who seems to be just as performatively mad about the UN vote as his Republican colleagues. So it’s anybody’s guess.

Iraq

Steve Townsend, the US Army Lieutenant General commanding the anti-ISIS coalition’s operation in support of Iraq’s Mosul operation (man, that’s a long description), told reporters today that he’s seeing better coordination among the various Iraqi units participating in the assault in the week since the operation resumed. Unit commanders are meeting more frequently, police are working with the counter-terrorism forces on the city’s eastern front to better secure liberated neighborhoods, and the long-stalled northern and southern axes of attack have actually, albeit slowly, started moving again, which should take some pressure off the forces in the east. The neighborhood-by-neighborhood reports of the offensive are thus looking a lot more active than they have been since long before the operation was paused to allow the Iraqis time to shift troops and materiel around the city.

As the fighting has heated back up, the unfortunate side effect has been an increase in humanitarian concerns. The UN estimates that 13,000 people have fled Mosul just in the past five days, a nearly 3000/day clip that risks overwhelming the systems set up in Nineveh province to deal with displaced persons. With so much of winter still ahead, this is a very bad time to be displaced in northern Iraq.

Syria

Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, is putting the blame for the rapidly collapsing Turkey-Russia ceasefire on Iran, calling on Tehran to rein in the Syrian government and Shiʿa militias who have continued to fight to the point that Syrian rebel leaders have suspended any participation in planned peace talks. It’s pretty tempting to see this as a tactic in Turkey’s efforts to open up some daylight between the Russians and Iranians. After all, Moscow could rein in Bashar al-Assad, at least, just as easily as Tehran could (which isn’t to say that they could actually do it), but criticizing Russia gets Turkey nowhere. Blaming Iran, on the other hand, is pretty good for business. It makes Turkey look like it’s the stronger power in Syria and bolsters its support among the rebels.

Speaking of Turkey, its military says that the operation to clear ISIS out of al-Bab will be completed “soon.” The offensive has benefited in recent days from Russian air power, as Moscow has apparently decided to take a break from not really ever attacking ISIS to attack ISIS, which you may recall was its number one stated intention for intervening in Syria in the first place. It’s believed that ISIS’s external operations (i.e., planning for attacks in France, Tunisia, Turkey, Belgium, etc.) have been run out of al-Bab, and while I can’t imagine that’s still the case you can bet Ankara would really like to conclude this offensive soon as a retaliation for the New Year’s Eve attack in Istanbul.

Somebody’s airstrikes in Idlib killed 25 fighters from Jabhat Fatah al-Sham today, per the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The fact that the strikes were in Idlib suggests Russia, but the fact that JFS was targeted leaves open the possibility that it was the US.

The humanitarian fallout from Aleppo is continuing to be felt, obviously, with residents returning to an east Aleppo that’s effectively destroyed. Relief agencies have moved in to provide food and medical care, but people simply don’t have anyplace to live at this point. And those are the people who have actually gotten to return; most former east Aleppo residents, the ones who survived anyway, are now displaced and will probably stay that way for some time to come.

Iran

Ahwazi Arab separatists say they bombed two oil pipelines in Iran’s Khuzestan province over the weekend, but Iranian authorities are denying that any attacks took place.

Turkey

Turkish authorities say they’ve identified the shooter in the Reina Nightclub attack on New Year’s Eve, though they’re not saying more than that publicly and the manhunt for him is still going. The dragnet conducted since the attack has swept up several suspected ISIS operatives.

Egypt

In a similar vein, Egyptian authorities have arrested four people suspected of involvement in the bombing of the St. Peter and St. Paul Church in Cairo last month, which has now killed 27 people. The Egyptian government has identified the leader of the group that bombed the church as a man named Mohab Mostafa el-Sayed Qassem, and he is apparently still at large.

Yemen

Yemeni forces near the city of Shuqrah were reportedly ambushed by al-Qaeda fighters on Tuesday, and three of them were killed.

Philippines

Jaafar Maguid, the leader of a small ISIS-aligned jihadi group called Ansar al-Khilafah (literally “Supporters of the Caliphate”), was killed early Thursday (wow, tomorrow’s news today!) in a shootout with Philippine police.

Myanmar

Today in News of the Inevitable:

Myanmar faces a growing danger of attacks by foreign supporters of Islamic State (IS) recruited from Southeast Asian networks in support of persecuted Muslim Rohingyas, Malaysia’s top counter-terrorism official has said.

Malaysian authorities have detained a suspected IS follower planning to head to Myanmar to carry out attacks, the head of the Malaysian police counter-terrorism division, Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay, said in an interview.

The suspect, an Indonesian whom he did not identify, was detained in Malaysia last month. The suspect was scheduled to be charged on Wednesday for possession of materials linked to terrorist groups, which carries a seven-year jail term or fine, Ayob Khan said.

More militants are likely to try to follow his lead in support of the Rohingya cause, Ayob Khan said.

The Rohingya are an obvious target for anybody looking for new vistas in jihadi radicalization: persecuted en masse, denied basic rights by a non-Muslim government, offered virtually no help from the international community apart from the occasional benign criticism lobbed at Kuala Lumpur. You could see this coming from a mile away, and the only surprise is that it hasn’t happened faster. But the tragedy is that any evidence of Rohingya radicalization will be used by the Myanmar government as justification for continuing its campaign of ethnic cleansing. Which will, in turn, be used as justification for more radicalization. Once this cycle really starts it’s going to be very difficult to break.

Libya

Several soldiers affiliated with the Government of National Accord have been wounded and at least one killed over the past two days, as warplanes belonging to Khalifa Haftar’s air force have been attacking the Jufra air base in the central part of the country. Haftar’s airstrikes were apparently targeting leaders of a militia based in Misrata that has aligned itself against him and with the GNA.

The Gambia

No matter how much support Yahya Jammeh may have lost in the weeks since he accepted, then refused to accept, his electoral defeat, he’s still got the head of the Gambian army, General Ousman Badjie, on his side. This is undoubtedly the only reason he’s still trying to nullify the election results, and it will make things very interesting if ECOWAS, the West African economic bloc, eventually decides to intervene to force Jammeh out.

Nigeria

Three girls acting as would-be suicide bombers for Boko Haram were killed by Nigerian troops today near the northeastern town of Madagali, thankfully before they were able to kill anybody else.

Somalia

A car bomb, presumably courtesy of al-Shabab though I haven’t seen any news that they’ve claimed it, exploded earlier today outside a UN compound in Mogadishu, wounding four guards.

Hi, how’s it going? Thanks for reading; attwiw wouldn’t exist without you! If you enjoyed this or any other posts here, please share widely and help build our audience. You can like this site on Facebook or follow me on Twitter as well. Most critically, if you’re a regular reader I hope you’ll read this and consider helping this place to stay alive.

Cause of death: late-stage capitalism

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, in 2015 average life expectancy in the United States dropped, from 78.9 years to 78.8 years, the first time that’s happened since 1993. We know that the drop in 1993 had a few particular causes (AIDS and high homicide and accidental death rates, for example), and while last year’s dip seems to involve smaller increases in death rates due to a much larger array of causes, there is one thing that sticks out: opioid abuse. More people in 2015 died of heroin overdoses than were killed in gun homicides, which has never happened before.

Our worsening national opioid problem is one of those things I have been increasingly aware of but not all that knowledgeable about. But New York Magazine’s Jesse Singal has what strikes me as a pretty sensible theory as to the roots of the problem: Continue reading

Donald Trump’s “Kiss My Ass Club”

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“Pucker up”

Here’s a confession: I used to watch a lot of pro wrestling when I was a kid. I’m dating myself, but Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant, Randy Savage (my favorite), all those guys, I watched as much of the old WWF as I could. If you don’t know anything about pro wrestling, there used to be two big companies: WWF, owned by Vince McMahon, and WCW, owned by Ted Turner and later Time Warner. WCW liked to throw money around, and it poached a lot of WWF’s bigger names, but as those guys aged the product aged with them, and not in a good way. In 2001 WCW went out of business–Time Warner sold it to McMahon. Still having some nostalgia for the wrestling I watched as a kid, I started watching it again around this time, partly to see some of the guys I grew up watching go back to WWF (now WWE).

McMahon planned this whole storyline where WCW was supposed to “invade” WWE, so the wrestlers from the “two companies”–really one company now–would feud with each other. The storyline was a total flop, but it did produce at least one memorable gimmick. After the “WWE” side won the feud, all these guys who supposedly “invaded” or whatever had to beg McMahon, in the story, for a job, and the only form of begging he would accept involved them literally kissing his ass, on camera. He called it the “Kiss My Ass Club.” I apologize for including this video but, if you didn’t already know this stuff, I think it’s the only way to convince you that it all really happened: Continue reading

Nothing has changed

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Yesterday, Donald Trump was a bully. Today, Donald Trump is a bully. Tomorrow, Donald Trump will be a bully.

Yesterday, Donald Trump was a racist. In 1989, Donald Trump was a racist. In 2014, Donald Trump was a racist. Today, Donald Trump is a racist. Tomorrow, Donald Trump will be a racist.

Yesterday, Donald Trump was a creepy misogynist. In 2005, Donald Trump was a creepy misogynist. Today, Donald Trump is a creepy misogynist. Tomorrow, Donald Trump will be a creepy misogynist.

Yesterday, Donald Trump was manifestly unfit to be President of the United States. Today, Donald Trump is manifestly unfit to be President of the United States. Tomorrow, Donald Trump will be manifestly unfit to be President of the United States.

We learned nothing about Donald Trump today that we didn’t already know. We sure got a refresher today, but really, nothing has changed.

Say, you know something else that hasn’t changed?

The Republican Party nominated Donald Trump to run for president. They can profess to be Mad at him as loudly as they want, they can cancel political events with him, they can pretend he doesn’t exist, they can even hold meetings (and make sure the press knows about them) to discuss whether and how they can kick Donald Trump off the ticket. But none of that changes the simple, basic fact that, knowing who Donald Trump is, was, and always will be, the Republican Party and its electorate anointed him their leader. The Republican Party, and every single Republican elected official and candidate who countenanced Donald Trump’s candidacy, should have to live with the consequences of that.

TIP JAR