Conflict update: April 19 2017

Hey! So, instead of finishing this and posting it at 11:58 like I usually do, tonight I’m going to try, you know, not doing that, and hopefully being asleep at 11:58 instead. I’d like to make that the new normal with these posts going forward, but we’ll see.


At The Nation, James Carden asks whether we, and the media in particular, have rushed to judgment in in blaming Bashar al-Assad for the April 4 chemical weapons attack in Khan Shaykhun. This is a difficult discussion to have in an environment that rewards the confident take over nuance almost every time, but I think Carden makes a compelling case that there has been a rush to judgment, while at the same time I also believe that the preponderance of evidence supports the conclusion that Assad did it. The thing is that “preponderance of evidence” isn’t that high a standard, especially in a situation where there isn’t all that much hard evidence–at this point I think we can fairly confidently say that sarin or something very much like it was used in Khan Shaykhun, but most of the rest of the story is still up in the air to one degree or another. And “preponderance of evidence” certainly seems like too low a standard when we’re talking about justifying military action, though certainly the US has historically trudged off to war over even less.

At some point, though, proponents of alternate theories about Khan Shaykhun are going to have to produce some evidence of their own, something more than “I’m hearing from sources” or “this satellite image looks like something else to me.” Because even if they’re right, and Assad wasn’t responsible for this attack, it doesn’t mean much if they can’t at least sway public opinion in their direction. And if international investigations start to determine that Assad did it, that’s going to become much harder to do. It’s one thing to question the veracity of anything that comes out of the Trump administration, but if, say, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons investigation comes back with a finding that Assad was responsible, then that’s harder to simply dismiss out of hand.

On the other hand, the OPCW investigation hasn’t come back yet, and if your argument is that America should have at least waited for that before commencing air strikes, well, I think you’re probably right. There’s also a strong case to be made that our media should be giving more–or at least some–attention to credible people who are questioning the “Assad Did It” narrative. And there’s also some merit to what Peter Ford, former UK ambassador to Syria, said hereContinue reading

Conflict update: January 5 2017

World War III

Building on an earlier post, this seems problematic:

Senior officials in the Russian government celebrated Donald Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton as a geopolitical win for Moscow, according to U.S. officials who said that American intelligence agencies intercepted communications in the aftermath of the election in which Russian officials congratulated themselves on the outcome.

The ebullient reaction among high-ranking Russian officials — including some who U.S. officials believe had knowledge of the country’s cyber campaign to interfere in the U.S. election — contributed to the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment that Moscow’s efforts were aimed at least in part at helping Trump win the White House.

That top Russian officials were happy to see Trump elected doesn’t really prove much of anything, but the fact that this stuff is being leaked to the press suggests that the intelligence community may already be retaliating against Trump. Buckle up.


Benjamin Netanyahu, who may soon need to fall back on his old training as a babysitter if he wants to make ends meet, was questioned again by Israeli fraud police at his home today–this time for five hours. And I thought Monday’s three hour interrogation seemed long. Netanyahu continues to insist that it’s all much ado about nothing, because apparently Israeli police are inclined to spend eight hours questioning the most powerful guy in Israel just for shits and giggles.

In other Israel news, two people have been arrested for threatening violence against the military judges who recently convicted IDF soldier Elor Azaria of manslaughter. Azaria, if you’re unfamiliar with the case, summarily executed an already-incapacitated Palestinian attacker in Hebron in March, then admitted doing so before backing off of that admission at trial and trying to argue, simultaneously, that the man he killed was still a threat and also already dead from his other wounds. Clearly it’s the judges who are the problem here. Azaria’s case has become a cause for right-wing Israeli politicians, including Netanyahu, who would like to see him pardoned mostly because it would be politically popular (Netanyahu, who took a very negative view of Azaria’s actions when they were first reported, has been particularly craven with respect to this case). The power to issue pardons lies with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, who may actually be sane enough to understand that you can’t pardon a guy just because he “only” executed a Palestinian, but we’ll see.


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Corruption matters

Amid all the post-election “how the hell did we get here” analysis, a lot of which has focused squarely and rightly on the myriad failures of the Democratic Party, another piece of the puzzle has gotten lost a bit, and that has to do with what Donald Trump represented to a lot of voters–a vote against “the establishment.” We live at a time when, across the board, confidence in public institutions is as low as it’s been in my lifetime, and that’s why everybody who runs for federal office tries to portray himself or herself as an “outsider” even when that claim is laughably absurd. The allure of the “outsider” candidate is simply too powerful…so powerful that the imprimatur helped Trump, a man manifestly unqualified to be president who’s not even really an “outsider,” get elected anyway. This lack of confidence in public institutions is problematic in its own right, regardless of how the election shook out, but it’s become more acute now that it’s helped bring us President Trump.

Why is confidence in public institutions so low? Well, to be sure, decades of right-wing rhetoric about “the liberal media” and how “evil” government is have contributed quite a bit, particularly as Democratic Party elites have preferred to hide from that debate rather than engage with it. But particularly now, after the Iraq War and the housing crash among other things, a big part of the reason why confidence in public institutions is so low is that our public institutions simply don’t deserve our confidence. Writing in Foreign Policy, Sarah Chayes, a Carnegie Endowment scholar who’s written on corruption and its impacts around the world, offers an absolutely merciless and well-deserved critique of American corruption and the role it played in this election: Continue reading

If you read only two things today…

I’m fighting off a bug and have a sick child home from school, so unless something moves me greatly I think the blog will be quiet for the rest of the day. But if you’re looking for something to read I’ve got a couple of suggestions. First, Atrios’s righteous anger is pretty good:

Monday morning quarterbacking – figuring out went wrong, with hindsight – is a certainly fair to engage in, but it isn’t necessarily an indictment of the people involved. Hindsight makes everything clearer, or so it seems at least.

But a bunch of people assumed the responsibility of protecting the nation from Donald Trump. This wasn’t a game, a sportsball contest, this, you know, mattered. And they lost. Jeebus help us all because of it. Most of them aren’t going to see their family members be deported or die of pregnancy complications. With great responsibility comes great responsibility. They took on a job, and they fucked it up. They lost the election to Donald Fucking Trump.

As for all of the absolutely horrible non-campaign surrogates, I suppose it depends on what they thought their job was. That’s the problem with the modern cable news and twitter campaign. I used to think Dems needed to close the hack gap, but that assumed our hacks would be any good. They weren’t.

Not very constructive, I know, but still necessary. But here is something more constructive, from New York Magazine’s Eric Levitz, on the ways Bernie Sanders (who wasn’t the best messenger, as Levitz acknowledges and I concur) is right about where the Democratic Party needs to go:

Without question, the non-economic dimensions of disadvantage in the United States — which women, LGBT, and nonwhite voters are acutely aware of as a function of their identities — must be addressed by any political party that considers itself progressive. And identity-based social movements like Black Lives Matter helped the Democratic Party better earn that label in 2016, by forcing both its presidential candidates to adopt platforms more representative of their voters’ interests.

But racial justice and gender equality cannot be achieved without confronting economic inequality — not when people of color and women are overrepresented among the financially disadvantaged. And it’s difficult to see how the Democratic Party will ever take aggressive action to combat inequality, unless its downscale wing becomes both larger and more class conscious.

This is really a thoughtful piece and well worth a read.


Things I Think (first in a series)

As I process what happened last Tuesday, and how I can help do something about it, I’m going to start an irregular series here where I lay out some of my thoughts. Maybe, hopefully, this will spur some discussion about how we–all of us who want to–can organize a real left opposition to what is basically unchecked Republican control of every lever of political power in this country. So here goes.

I think that it makes much less sense to talk about the 2016 election in terms of how Donald Trump won than it does to talk about it in terms of how Hillary Clinton lost. The numbers are pretty clear: Trump will finish the election with only slightly more votes nationally that Mitt Romney earned in a losing campaign in 2012, while Clinton will finish with a couple of million less than Obama earned. Overall, turnout dropped to a level not seen since the 2000 election, coincidentally the last time a Democrat won the popular vote but lost the electoral college. Yes, Trump mobilized some new demographics (well, one–non-college educated whites) to come out and vote for him, but the more striking detail is that Clinton…didn’t. Black voters didn’t come out in the same numbers for her, she did worse among Hispanic voters than Obama (which, given Trump’s rhetoric about immigrants, is shocking), and young voters didn’t back her the way they’d backed Obama. The operating assumption of her campaign, which seems to have been that Obama voters would turn out for her just Because, and that Trump’s awfulness would win her a whole bunch of new votes among Hispanic voters and disaffected moderate Republicans, was utterly wrong. Hell, if the exit polls are accurate, more Democrats wound up voting for Trump than Republicans for Clinton.

I think that the Democratic Party is spent as a political force. It has been fashionable among center-left types since Trump’s victory to talk about how a shift of only about 55,000 votes in three states (Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania) would have thrown the election to Clinton. This, and the fact that Clinton won the national popular vote by a couple of million votes, is important insofar as it shows that there was no broad national movement toward Trump and that Trump’s supporters are not in the majority–though, with voter turnout in the 50s, neither are Clinton’s voters. It’s important to keep in mind that Donald Trump was elected by about a quarter of the country’s eligible voters. But it’s also important not to let this kind of analysis obscure the degree to which the Democratic Party has been annihilated all over the country. To wit: Continue reading

Let the madness end

Like most of the rest of the world, I am being emotionally held hostage by the presidential elections, so I hope you’ll forgive me if things aren’t very active around here today. I should be writing a piece for pay, but I can’t even focus well enough to do that and there’s potentially some money at stake.

One thing I did want to say for any readers who aren’t living out the last days of the Roman Republic in the US: as much as I’m sure many of you want this election to end, rest assured that the vast majority of us want exactly the same thing:


Now that is a great model of democracy in action. We should all be very proud anxious and nervous.

Donny T and the Anti-War Movement

Over at Medium, because it’s been a while, I considered the possibility that pro-Trump self-professed anti-war folks might be on to something. I remain unconvinced:

Hey, maybe you’re thinking that doesn’t sound so bad! Bombing the shit out of ISIS? Cool! But ISIS hasn’t segregated itself. Bombing the shit out of them entails bombing the shit out of a big chunk of the Middle East, and there are lots of people living there who aren’t in ISIS. Bombing the shit out of them would not be so cool! Maybe you’re already thinking that the United States is already bombing the shit out of those people, and I agree, we are! But it seems odd, to me, for Anti-War Donald Trump to propose continuing a current war, and even odder to find that Anti-War Donald Trump seems to feel like we’re not bombing enough shit out of them, and that he wants to bomb even more shit out of them than we already are.

But there are a couple of other things we should note here. First, Anti-War Donald Trump is talking here about deliberately bombing oil infrastructure, which would likely leave people dying from both the bombs themselves and the ensuing environmental catastrophe. Second, Anti-War Donald Trump uses one of his go-to applause lines in that video, the one about “taking the oil.” AWDT loves that one — he uses it in referring to Iraq, Syria, and Libya. Unfortunately, we call that kind of thing “pillaging,” and it’s a war crime.

An anti-war war crime! What a time to be alive.

Like most things, my conclusion here is that it comes down to Us vs. Them. Trump wants to kill a lot of Them, but he’s the loudest voice in the race about not killing any of Us in the process. Ergo, there’s some strain of people who consider themselves anti-war, but don’t really pay much attention when lots of Them die at American hands, who see Trump as similarly anti-war. He’s not–and neither are they for that matter.