Saturday, January 24, 2015

News Nuggets 1505

DAYLEE PICTURE: A frozen grotto on Olkhon Island in Lake Baikal in Russia.  From the Daily Mail of the UK.

The up front stories here on Russia are all must-reads!  The cascading problems Putin is facing are amply showcased!

TODAY'S BIG NUGGET: In Russia, "It's obvious that the banking crisis will be massive,"

Warnings of Russian Financial Crisis Spread as Banks Start Failing from Moscow Today [in English]
"The head of Russia's largest bank, German Gref, offered a bleak picture of the fate awaiting the country's banking sector in 2015 during the set-piece Gaidar economic forum in Moscow this week. "It's obvious that the banking crisis will be massive," the Sberbank chief told reporters. "The state will capitalize the banks and increase its stake in them, and the banks will buy industrial enterprises and become financial-industrial groups," Gref said Wednesday. "All our economy will be state-run." ... Solntsev gave a thumbnail sketch of the likely progression of events: "

The Club of Not-Ready-for-Prime-Time Imperialists

Authoritarian Drift at the Banks of the Black Sea (Dominique Moisi) from Real Clear World
"They can picture themselves as the "last czar" or the "last sultan." All they want is to restore the Great Russia or to rebuild a neo-Ottoman Empire, but neither of them actually has the means to turn their dreams into reality."

Russia's Alternative to the EU. What a Great Deal!

Russia Is Losing Friends and Alienating Peoples (Yulia Zhuchkova) from the Moscow Times [in English]
"Moscow will only cooperate with states that accept Russia's economic model of nationalization — a model that has proven ineffective in recent years. Moreover, Moscow ultimately turns its back on any state that does not want to end up like Russia, in what Putin euphemistically described as "the trap of zero growth." That is no way to form an alliance. People become friends when they share common values, interests and world views. ... Russia, on the other hand, seems patently incapable of making friends. It prefers an overbearing and ostentatious show of love — and not even with a real partner, but with an imaginary image of that partner."
Regular readers know that I have been giving a lot of attention to Russia's attempts to "reintegrate" the former Soviet Union and that the only way Putin has been able to give any life to this project is by providing these "allies" with massive subsidies.  This article gives all the OTHER WAYS these countries serve basically as the world's most expensive collection of boat anchors. Militarily, economically, in virtually all meaningful ways, they are nothing but resource leeching boat anchors! Good luck with this project, Vladamir!

Russia's silence for families of troops killed in Ukraine

They were never there from the Guardian [of the UK]
"The Kremlin denies sending troops into the conflict in east Ukraine, but Russian relatives of those who have served and died across the border tell a different story. ... State-controlled television has occasionally reported on the deaths of Russian “volunteers” in Ukraine, but any discussion of servicemen being deployed there remains taboo."
The number of Russian troops in eastern Ukraine is growing -- even as the official denials of Russian involvement become more insistent.  Read this entire story -- it's like an undercover version of Vietnam!  According to one source, Russia already has 18,000 troops there.  Those are Kennedy-esque Vietnam era numbers -- and Putin is trying to do it largely hidden from the view of average Russians.  With hundreds of Russian troops dying, how long can Putin sustain this con?

The Real Costs of Dysfunctionality in the Arab World

On Radical Islam, Say It Like It Is (Thomas Friedman) from the New York Times
"It is the struggle within Arab and Pakistani Sunni Islam over whether and how to embrace modernity, pluralism and women’s rights. That struggle drives, and is driven by, the dysfunctionality of so many Arab states and Pakistan. It has left these societies with too many young men who have never held a job or a girl’s hand, who then seek to overcome their humiliation at being left behind, and to find identity, by “purifying” their worlds of other Muslims who are not sufficiently pious and of Westerners whom they perceive to be putting Muslims down."

Macroeconomic Populism: An Update from Latin America

Latin America, Time To Pay The Bill For Economic Populism from WorldCrunch 
"As prices on oil and other raw materials drop, the cycle of what some call "macroeconomic populism" is hitting a rather tough patch, especially for Argentina and Venezuela."

Inside the catastrophic collapse of the Catholic right

The Pope Francis Revolution (Patricia Miller) from Salon
"Once a major political force with the power to derail presidential campaigns, right-wing Catholicism is in decline."

Obama: The Liberal Reagan?

The Liberal Reagan? (Andrew Sullivan) from The Dish
"It’s been a theme on this blog from as far back as 2007 that Barack Obama could be as significant a president for the center-left as Ronald Reagan was for the conservative right. And in policy terms, as Jon Chait rather brilliantly argues, he still stands a good chance of that."

Obama ditches the centrists

How a break from neoliberalism boosted Obama's popularity (Elias Isquith) from Salon
"Obama ditches the centrists: How a break from neoliberalism boosted his popularity
The president's more popular than he's been in nearly two years. Here's why that should have neoliberals scared."

More Trial Balloons from 2016 GOP Wannabees?

Palin says she’s ‘seriously interested’ in 2016 campaign (Robert Costa) from the Washington Post
"Still, Palin said that she is not yet ramping up a national political operation. Instead, Palin said, she is contemplating her political future and does not feel rushed to make a final decision."
This last line tells me that she is much more in the Donald Trump seriously not-seriously-thinking-about-it school of campaigning.  ALL the other GOP potentials for 2016 must be quietly praying that she doesn't show up at all in Iowa or New Hampshire because Palin, to quote from Mr. Banks' Mary Poppins song, has "chaos in her wake"; she can slice and dice better than Julia Child and has a base within the hard right that Cruz, Huckabee and others can only envy.  Ah, but in truth, from a liberal Democrat's point of view, the possibility of her running, like seriously seriously?, is just too good to be true.  She has a PhD in political ambulance chasing, and I think this just another exercise in it.  Maybe there is someone (Roger Ailes?) for whom this threat will act as a great form of blackmail? - Nuggetsman

Forgiving Bad Parents: Perspectives

The Debt (Emily Yoffe) from Slate
"When terrible, abusive parents come crawling back, what do their grown children owe them?"

The Tea Party -- Post Election

Tea party reeling from Politico Magazine
"Five years into its existence, the tea party is a movement adrift, interviews with conservative activists at this weekend’s South Carolina Tea Party Coalition Convention show. Its members are at odds over what went wrong in the 2014 election and on how to move forward in 2016..."

2016 POLLING NUGGET [of a sort]!!

History’s a Positive for Clinton; Not So for Bush or Romney from ABC News
"Hillary Clinton’s potential place in history and her husband’s tenure in the White House boost her presidential prospects, while Jeb Bush’s political legacy and Mitt Romney’s 2012 run for the office are negatives, a new ABC News/Washington Post poll finds."
This is why I do not watch ABC News or network news generally.  They have polling units to generate polls because it is way cheaper to do that than to go out and actually investigate anything.  This story has the shelf life of a tuna fish sandwich in the Congo.  Don't buy a word of it.  A month of focused GOP character assassination against Hillary combined with dredging up all Bill Clinton's history of self-inflicted wounds from the 1990s will equalize those numbers toot suite!  GOP "thought leaders" have already declared that it will be open season on Bill, never mind that he is not the one running for office. - Nuggetsman.


Read the letter the FBI sent MLK to try to convince him to kill himself from Vox
"When the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech before huge crowds on the National Mall in August 1963, the FBI took notice. "We must mark him now, if we have not done so before, as the most dangerous Negro of the future in this Nation from the standpoint of communism, the Negro and national security," FBI domestic intelligence chief William Sullivan wrote in a memo two days later."
For those who are nonchalant about surveylance, this letter's text and the accompanying quotes from FBI files should remind people how dangerous our own government was and can be when we give them a free pass.


Ancient Roman scrolls scorched by Vesuvius volcano may be readable thanks to new X-ray tech from Agence France-Presse 
"Pecious scrolls blackened by the eruption of the Vesuvius volcano in AD 79 may become readable again, thanks to 21st century technology, scientists said on Tuesday. Hundreds of papyrus scrolls believed to have been authored by Greek philosophers were found in the Roman town of Herculaneum, which was hit in the same eruption that destroyed the town of Pompeii. ... ‘Readable within a decade’ -“It’s always hard to make a precise prediction, but with resources, the scrolls should be readable within the next decade,” lead scientist Vito Mocella told AFP."


Queen Elizabeth Once Took King Abdullah For A Drive, Proved She's A Badass from the Huffington Post
"One such story is a humorous anecdote about the king’s apparently harrowing encounter with Queen Elizabeth II in 1998. How harrowing? The queen is rumored to have “terrorized” then-Crown Prince Abdullah with her driving skills ..."
This is pretty hilarious!


Scared homeless dog tried to bite his rescuers. See what happens next from Hope for Paws

Friday, January 16, 2015

News Nuggets 1504

DAYLEE PICTURE: A coppery-headed emerald hummingbird in Costa Rica.  From National Geographic.

TODAY'S BIG NUGGET: Obama's Legacy, the Early Notices

53 Historians Weigh In on Barack Obama’s Legacy from New York Magazine 
"Here, we have published a small fraction of the answers we found most thought-provoking, along with essays by Jonathan Chait, our national-affairs columnist, and Christopher Caldwell, whom we borrowed from The Weekly Standard."

The Crimea: It's Not East Germany After World War II

Seizing Assets in Crimea, From Shipyard to Film Studio from the New York Times
"Since Russia annexed the Black Sea peninsula 10 months ago, more than $1 billion in real estate and other assets have been stripped from their former owners, according to estimates from the owners and lawyers. The assets include banks, hotels, shipyards, farms, gas stations, the major bakery, a vital dairy and even the storied lots of Yalta Film Studio, which 50 years ago made this now shabby seaside resort the Hollywood of the Soviet Union. Property seizures on such a sweeping scale have not occurred since the Russian Revolution, owners said."
The Russians are being SOOO stupid about this.  Even if they do get away with it in the Crimea, the Ukraine and other neighbors are taking notes and either stiffening their resolve or looking for jump ship.  You can already see that other former Soviet republics that are part of Putin's "co-prosperity" zone, a gerry-rigged Eurasian alternative to the EU, are trying to cut loose from the zombie-like Russian economy, hoping that the rigor mortis that is and will beset Russia doesn't kill their economies as well.  Just as critically, Putin's despoiling of the Crimea will stiffen the backs of Ukrainian authorities and their European allies even as Putin is desperately seeking ways to weaken the former and divide the latter in their application of sanctions.  Putin would have been much wiser to throw money and resources at the Crimea -- rather than giving it Stalin's post-World War II East Germany treatment.  The more one sees Putin's behavior, the more it seems that this guy is like emerging from some 1930s-era time capsule.  I have no doubt that Putin is one of the more cunning figures on the world stage right now -- but I also think he is deeply disconnected from modern realities.  As he tries to muddle through the coming economic disaster that is heading Russia's way, look for him to embrace "solutions" drawn from a 1930s-era bag of tricks.  Result: a thoroughly unleavened neo-fascist dictatorship the likes of which we haven't seen in Europe in a long time, gulags and all.  We can only hope that he can keep from using Russia's still substantial stockpile of nuclear weapons -- or (more likely) that that stockpile has degraded to such an extent that it is virtually unusable. -- Nuggetsman

Charlie Hebdo fallout: Same book; different chapter:

Specter of fascist past haunts European nationalism (Jacob Heilbrunn) from Reuters
"Le Pen is at the forefront of a European-wide nationalist resurgence — one that wants to evict from their homelands people they view as Muslim subversives. She and other far-right nationalists are seizing on some legitimate worries about Islamic militancy — 10,000 soldiers are now deployed in France as a safety measure — in order to label all Muslims as hostile to traditional European cultural and religious values. Le Pen herself has likened their presence to the Nazi occupation of France."

Rising Anti-semitism in Europe

Europe’s New Problem With Anti-Semitism from Foreign Policy Magazine
"Several factors, including the intensifying violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, have contributed to the resurgence of anti-Semitism across Europe. But perhaps none is as toxic or frightening as the ascendance of far-right political parties. These groups are not just bad for Jews; they are bad for Europe."

Early Assessment of Obama's Legacy

History will be Very Kind to Obama (Jonathan Chait) from New York Magazine 
"It is my view that history will be very generous with Barack Obama, who has compiled a broad record of accomplishment through three-quarters of his presidency."

Obama to France? Fine That He Didn't Go

Obama's Mistake is No Disgrace (Ron Fournier) from the National Journal 
"America doesn't need to march its president in the streets of Paris to prove its resolve. ... Get a grip. Just as Obama has a responsibility to recognize and exploit the power of presidential symbolism, his critics must not forget the importance of context. There are bigger things to worry about – and more important failings of the Obama administration – than the delicate feelings of the French. ... The United States has some 66,000 military personnel deployed in Europe. More than 6,800 U.S. service members have died in post-9/11 operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Hundreds of billions of dollars from the U.S. treasury finance intelligence and military operations across the globe, making the United States the most stalwart enemy of terrorists.  The president of the United States doesn't need to march in the streets of Paris to prove his nation's commitment."
I have long been a critic of Fournier.  Before he got his current gig at National Journal, his criticisms of Obama were (in my view) excessive, forced, and routinely overly seasoned with right wing talking points.  THIS item is absolutely spot on though!! -- Nuggetsman

More Early Assessments of Obama's Legacy

Americans Are Going to Miss Obama When He's Gone from the Atlantic 
"Obama may be a polarizing figure right now, but he'll be immensely popular once he leaves office."

New Measure of Poverty is Depressing ... and No Surprise

More Than Half Of American Schoolchildren Now Live In Poverty from the Huffington Post
"For the first time, more than half of U.S. public school students live in low-income households, according to a new analysis from the Southern Education Foundation. Overall, 51 percent of U.S. schoolchildren came from low-income households in 2013, according to the foundation, which analyzed data from National Center for Education Statistics on students eligible for free or reduced-price lunches."
The "no surprise" piece of this comes from the fact that we have one party that is absolutely, positively committed that poor people will get NOTHING to alleviate their poverty.  Indeed, the GOP seems to mark as a seminal victory when they can make the lives of these people worse. -- Nuggetsman

People of NYC React to Police Protests

New Yorkers Turn Their Backs On Police Protests, Quinnipiac University Poll Finds from Quinnipiac University
"Police union leader Patrick Lynch's comments that the mayor's office had blood on its hands are "too extreme," voters say 77 - 17 percent, the independent Quinnipiac University Poll finds."

Who is Throwing His Hat in for 2016?!

The Selling of Mitt 3.0 from Politico
"Romney is promising he’ll be ‘different’ this time. ... In meetings with and individual calls to donors, supporters and former staffers, Romney is making it clear that he is likely to run, putting his time frame for a decision at “weeks, not months.”"
WOW!  This could be quite a development if Romney really does this.  I'm pretty confident in saying that Jeb Bush is clearly looking to run in 2016 -- as is Chris Christie and Marco Rubio [we'll call these guys Team A].  If Mitt throws in his hat as well, in my opinion it will SERIOUSLY imperil the chances that any of these guys will get the nomination -- and substantively increase the chances of nutcakes like Cruz, Paul, Perry, and Huckabee [we'll call these folks Team B] -- EVEN as it makes the money game much more complicated for the latter group. Why?  In a Bush verses team A [sans Romney] matchup, hands down Bush has the edge in terms of money, contacts, and let me just say it: smarts.  This guy has been running the best stealth campaign I have EVER seen.  The rest of Team A [again without Romney] would be hard pressed to match Bush in name recognition, money, networking, and, simply stated, their own already obvious weaknesses.  PUT ROMNEY IN THE MIX, though, and suddenly things get way more interesting -- because Romney also has the money and a formidable network of his own already in place.  Also, in combination with the rest of Team A the pool of campaign talent and big donor money will be diluted [Wall Street money would be split all kinds of ways amongst Team A].  Normally, this would lead to favoring the more right wing candidate in the race [see the Goldwater nomination in 1964] -- but in Team B one can see a junior version of the same dynamic shaping up.  Not only will the big donor money be split multiple ways in Team B but there will be LESS of it due to the prominent, networked-in Wall Street folks in Team A. If we get anything like a Team A [with Romney] and Team B nomination race, it will be an AMAZING nomination contest next year.  It leaves me wondering if Romney's trial balloons aren't an effort to drive some people out in the Team A category.  Stay tuned. -- Nuggetsman

Who's Getting Chased from the Field by Romney's 2016 Trial Balloons? Ummm ... Maybe Mitt Romney

Mitt 3.0 Fails To Impress Conservatives At Major Conference In Washington from the Huffington Post
"...  the prospect of another Romney campaign failed to capture the hearts of social and fiscal conservatives gathered this week in the nation's capital to hammer out the policy agenda for the new Republican-controlled Congress."
Well, if anyone is driven from the race early by Romney's trial balloons, it may be Mitt Romney himself.  Response from many conservatives has been, shall we say, underwhelming.  This is a key moment for Romney.  Can he hear the almost unanimous voice of his party: DON'T DO IT!  If he goes forward in the face of this, it will reveal so much about him as a politician.  Like almost everyone else in the GOP lining up for 2016, the question comes: why are you running.  The answer: overwhelming, over weaning self regard! -- Nuggetsman

And then there's this:

Here Comes the Republican Opposition to Mitt Romney (Chuck Todd et al.) from NBC First Read
"This is going to be the real test for Romney over the next few weeks: How honest is the feedback, and just how real is the groundswell that many of his close aides claim is there for him? And careful of the early polling -- of course, the former nominee will be at the top. But how does he go anywhere but down as others get in?"

Romney Assess Jeb for 2016

Jeb Is a Joke in Romneyland (David Freelander) from the Daily Beast 
"Not everyone thinks Jeb Bush is a strong presidential candidate, Republican donors say Mitt Romney is certain that ‘a Bush can’t beat a Clinton.’ ... According to a number of close Romney associates and people who have spoken to him over the last several months, Romney does not see a towering figure in the field but a deeply flawed candidate who would struggle in a race against Hillary Clinton."
A "deeply flawed figure"?  It takes one to know one. -- Nuggetsman


Here's How Obama Reacted When He Walked In On An Aide Who Was With Someone In Bed from the Huffington Post
"“Hey, Reggie, we need to go over the schedule” – at which point the senator finally noticed my friend in bed, covers pulled to her throat, mortified. “Oh,” he said. “I apologize.” Then he turned around and hurried out. “Was that?” she asked, face red. “Senator Barack Obama,” I said sheepishly."


10 Ways Introverts Interact Differently With The World from the Huffington Post
"Coffee jitters aside, here are 10 ways introverts physically interact with the world around them differently than extraverts."


Parents investigated for neglect after letting kids walk home alone from the Washington Post
"It was a one-mile walk home from a Silver Spring park on Georgia Avenue on a Saturday afternoon. But what the parents saw as a moment of independence for their 10-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter, they say authorities viewed much differently. ... The Meitivs say they believe in “free-range” parenting, a movement that has been a counterpoint to the hyper-vigilance of “helicopter” parenting, with the idea that children learn self-reliance by being allowed to progressively test limits, make choices and venture out in the world."

Saturday, January 10, 2015

News Nuggets 1503

DAYLEE PICTURE: A section of Torquay beach in Victoria, Australia.  From the Daily Mail of the UK.

TODAY'S BIG NUGGET: Is Radical Change Coming to Russia?

Plummeting Oil Prices Could Bring Radical Change to Russia. What Comes Next? from the Nation
"Today we are witnessing the third episode of economic crisis in post-Soviet Russia. Each time the crisis barged into Russia from beyond its borders, carrying a significant threat to the regime, which nevertheless survived the first two times. Will this one be any different?"

The PR Costs of Being Big and Bad on the Global Stage

What Do Chinese and Russians Think of the U.S. Military? (Franz-Stefan Gady) from The Diplomat
"A recent article touches on U.S. perceptions of its military. But how do other countries view it? ... The United States is the indispensable military power, but this seldom translates into genuine gratitude and more often than not slides into open anti-Americanism, as history has
illustrated time and again. Based on my own discussions with policymakers in Europe and Asia, the attitude of most U.S. allies is that the only thing worse than fighting with the United States is to fight without her."

Putin: Being Held to Account

Will 2015 Be A Turning Point For Putin And His Regime? from Forbes Magazine
"This year will be a tough one for Vladimir Putin as the Russian people come to better understand the huge social and economic costs of his Ukraine venture."

The Real Story: Russia's Declining Regional Influence

Russia’s Waning Soft Power in Central Asia (Stephen Blank) from The Diplomat
"The Russian language is fading in the region, and there seems little Moscow can do about it. ... a 2009 Russian law that Russian President Vladimir Putin directly invoked to justify the invasion of Crimea permits the Russian president to order troops into other countries to uphold the “honor and dignity” of Russians and Russian speakers if it is being violated. Given that, it should be clear that linguistic policy in Central Asian countries is a matter of the utmost importance, requiring
considerable subtlety on the part of Central Asian leaders."

The Diminishing Threat of Iran

Why Obama won’t reach an agreement with Iran (Gareth Porter) from Middle East Eye
"The Obama administration feels that it has no incentives to reach an agreement with Iran, because it is getting most of what it wants already under the status quo."

Faster Pace of Releases at Guantánamo

Obama Nears Goal for Guantánamo With Faster Pace of Releases from the New York Times
"Now 127 prisoners remain at Guantánamo, down from 680 in 2003, and the Pentagon is ready to release two more groups of prisoners in the next two weeks..."

Why today’s high-speed rail launch is miraculous

America’s most ambitious infrastructure project of the century (David Dayen) from Salon 
"Want to show the power of what government can achieve despite conservative opposition? Look at high-speed rail."

When the Whole World is Watching ...

It’s Time for Pervasive Surveillance — of the Police from Raw Story 
"We need recordings, and we need them not just to investigate high-profile shootings. There is a growing demand for accurate recording of the entire spectrum of police activity, making greater transparency of policing an urgent priority. However, recordings by themselves are not a magic bullet."

Populism Rises When Politics and Politicians Fail

Populism Rises on a Wave of Frustration (William Galston) from the Wall Street Journal
"Populist movements flourish when established leaders and parties fail to solve their countries’ most urgent problems. Throughout the market democracies, one problem dominates all others: the economic squeeze on working- and middle-class families. Neither the center-left nor the center-right has responded in ways that make sense to rank-and-file citizens. So they are looking elsewhere. ... Populism is the politics of nostalgia. It appeals to a better time in the past..."

The brilliant new science that has creationists and the Christian right terrified

God is on the Ropes (Paul Rosenberg) from Salon
"A young MIT professor is finishing Darwin's task — and threatening to undo everything the wacky right holds dear."

Wars of Choice and the Draft

Bringing Back the Draft Isn’t a “Remedy” For Anything (Daniel Larison) from the American Conservative
"Ending the draft was one of the more significant improvements to modern American life in the last fifty years, and throwing away those gains would be a huge mistake. Especially when the U.S. no longer faces foreign threats comparable to the USSR, a draft would be nothing but an
inexcusable intrusion into the lives of Americans. ... Our wars of choice have been made possible by the possession of a large, well-equipped military that can go to war at the president’s discretion even without Congress’ approval. A draft would not make it harder for the U.S. to blunder into costly conflicts, but rather would increase the resources available to future administrations that they could squander even more easily."

Friday, January 2, 2015

News Nuggets 1502

DAYLEE PICTURE: Kirkjufellsfoss Falls in Iceland.  From the Daily Mail of the UK.

Happy 2015 to all our readers!

TODAY'S BIG NUGGET: Oil Prices Shake the Political and Economic Global Order

Oil's Swift Fall Raises Fortunes of US Abroad from the New York Times 
"A plunge in oil prices has sent tremors through the global political and economic order, setting off an abrupt shift in fortunes that has bolstered the interests of the United States and pushed several big oil-exporting nations — particularly those hostile to the West, like Russia, Iran and Venezuela — to the brink of financial crisis."
We posted this last week -- but it has SO MUCH to say that I thought it worth posting again as a big nugget!  Check it out.

Low Oil Prices Hits Just About ALL the Bad Actors

Cheap Oil: When bad things happen to bad people (Paul Sheehan) from the Sydney Morning Herald [of Australia]
"The good news is that the collapse in the price of oil this year has, disproportionately, afflicted repellent regimes. The lower cost of fuel is bringing rough justice to Saudi Arabia, Russia, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Venezuela, Cuba and even Islamic State. It is also causing a world of pain to the American fracking industry, while changed the face of geopolitics when America began pumping out as much production as Saudi Arabia."

Putin's Hardening Regime

2015: The Year of the Putin Dictatorship (Leonid Bershidsky) from Bloomberg
"That process usually ends with a butterfly breaking out of the cocoon. But that would take a bigger shock than any of Putin's enemies, including the current Western leaders, are capable of delivering. Barring a miracle, 2015 will be the year the cocoon hardens -- a gloomy home to those inside and an impenetrable, unpredictable object to the outside world."

Russia's Troubles Ripple Through It's Alliance of "Boat Anchor" Regimes

Belarus’s Russian Problem from the Wall Street Journal
"The Russian ruble’s downward spiral has claimed a new casualty: neighboring Belarus and its heavily Russia-dependent economy. The regime of Alexander Lukashenko, one of Moscow’s closest allies, has begun blocking independent news sites and several online-shopping outlets in an apparent attempt to prevent a bank run and shore up the Belarusian ruble."

A Pathway Forward for Russia and the West?

Rapprochement With Russia? from the New York Times
"Reducing these risks and seizing the opportunity the crisis presents calls for a comprehensive policy that offers phased sanctions relief but also includes enhanced deterrence and a renewed commitment to Ukraine’s independence. The breakdown of peace talks in Minsk last week only makes the need for a truly comprehensive package more urgent. It would include these basic elements:.."

Poli-Sci and Geo-politics: Reality's Lessons

America Is Fated to Lead (Robert Kaplan) from the National Interest 
"The older I get, with the experience of three decades as a foreign correspondent behind me, the more I realize that outside of a class of brilliantly intuitive minds—including the late Samuel Huntington, Zbigniew Brzezinski and Henry Kissinger—political science is still mainly an aspiration, and that Shakespeare’s tragedies and histories offer a much better guide to the bizarre palace maneuverings of the last Romanov czar and czarina of Russia, of Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu of Romania, of Slobodan Milosevic and Mirjana Markovic of Yugoslavia, or of Zviad and Manana Gamsakhurdia of Georgia. In short, there is no scientific formula to understanding international relations. There is primarily insight, which by definition is Shakespearean."

What the "Old Hands" Have to Say about the Bush Torture Program

Why torture doesn't work: A definitive guide (Ryan Cooper) from The Week 
"Dick Cheney says torture is effective. But the Nazis (and the Soviets and the Viet Cong and the Stasi) would disagree."

Amateur Hour in America's Torture Chamber

Our New Politics of Torture (Mark Danner, interviewed by Hugh Eakin) from the New York Review of Books
"What I think is strictly speaking new is, first, how amateurish the torture program was. It was really amateur hour, beginning with the techniques themselves, which were devised and run by a couple of retired Air Force psychologists ...  They had no expertise in terrorism or counterterrorism, had never interrogated al-Qaeda members or anyone else for that matter. ... The second great revelation is the degree to which the CIA claimed great results, and did so mendaciously."

The Pope's Stand on Climate Change

Pope Francis’s edict on climate change will anger deniers and US churches from the Guardian [of the UK]
"Pontiff hopes to inspire action at next year’s UN meeting in Paris in December after visits to Philippines and New York."

Iran's Greatest Fear: "American Islam"

Iran's Greatest Fear: "American Islam" from the National Interest
"The Islamic State rages next door and the U.S. Congress is threatening new sanctions, but Iranian officials remain preoccupied by a different challenge, one that has haunted them for decades: “American Islam.”"

A Close Consideration of Obama's Foreign Policy

Obama's foreign policy report card for 2014 (Max Fisher) from Vox
"What follows is a highly subjective and unscientific report card for US foreign policy, divided across what appeared to be its 10 highest priorities. I'm grading based on the degree to which the administration did or did not accomplish its own goals, rather than on the merits of those goals themselves or the general benevolence of U.S. foreign policy itself."

Acknowledging What's Working in America

Everything Is Awesome! (Michael Grunwald) from Politico
"Well, not everything. But America’s looking much better than you think. ... Let’s face it: The press has a problem reporting good news. Two Americans died of Ebola and cable TV flipped out; now we’re Ebola-free and no one seems to care. ... The other problem in acknowledging good news, not just for the press but for the public, is that it has come to feel partisan, like an endorsement of whoever occupies the White House."

Taking the Military Seriously -- for a Change

The Tragedy of the American Military (James Fallows) from the Atlantic 
"The American public and its political leadership will do anything for the military except take it seriously. The result is a chickenhawk nation in which careless spending and strategic folly combine to lure America into endless wars it can’t win."
Fallows is getting A LOT of response to this piece.  Some examples from his site:
"I see in my classmates a total divorce from civilian reality. They live in a rarefied world where they are the only ones who are honest, law abiding, and religious. They totally disdain social welfare programs as they receive health benefits to death, commissary privileges, and pensions. In their view, civilians are not worthy of these programs."

The 20th Century Crime Wave and Its Legacy

On Crime - The Unspoken Issue (Josh Marshall) from Talking Points Memo 
"... the one critical factor that simply doesn't get mentioned enough is the historic drop in crimes of all kinds over the last 20 years. It is nothing less than the end of the late 20th century crime wave which began in the early 1960s and lasted between 35 and 40 years, depending on where you're talking about and just how you want to define it. As I've written at some length, the late 20th century crime wave was probably one of the two or three biggest drivers or cultural and political change in the late 20th century."

Is the Modern American Dream Attainable?

Is the Modern American Dream Attainable? from the New York Times
 "According to recent studies, more than half of Americans believe that the prospect of a good job and a home with a "white picket fence" is gone, never existed or unachievable."

New York’s epic white backlash

How a horrid 1960s relic is still with us today (Joan Walsh) from Salon
"O’Reilly, Hannity and a defiant NYPD are fighting battles of 50 years ago. The chaos ended but the backlash endures."
Ah, another old chestnut from the 1960s!  Have to run to the barricades and take up arms against those who blame "pigs" and "THE MAN."  The Ferguson shooting/protests combine with the police assassinations in NYC -- and here, like some time warp out of Star Trek, we are back in 1968.  I genuinely think that there are millions of now silver-haired Americans who only feel fully alive (and what, twenty-five again) unless they are raging full-throated against those hippie/commie Jane Fonda-loving, pot-smoking, flag-burning, tree-hugging beatniks!!! Pardon me while my eyes roll in exasperation. -- Nuggetsman

Erikson: The Toxicity of Conservative Anger

Is the Most Powerful Conservative in America Losing His Edge? (Molly Ball) from the Atlantic
"Erick Erickson built his career on stoking populist rage. But now the man who steers the Tea Party says conservative anger has grown toxic and self-defeating."

Republican Disconnect from the 21st Century

Republicans and the Siren Song of The Past from the National Memo
"In many significant ways, [Obama] has dragged America into the 21st century. But how long will we stay here? I ask because so many Republicans seem nostalgic for the golden era of Chubby Checker, Elvis Presley and The Shirelles, or the slightly more recent decade when Lionel Richie and Olivia Newton-John topped the charts."

Confessions of a one-time religious right icon

My horrible right-wing past (Frank Schaeffer) from Salon
"I was a religious fanatic appealing to political leaders. Today, the fanatics are the political leaders."


Most cancers are caused by bad luck not genes or lifestyle, say scientists from the Daily Telegraph [of the UK]
"Scientists at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in the US found that the majority of cancers are not linked to environment or lifestyle."


Everything You Need To Know About Adding Solar Panels At Home from Forbes Magazine
"Solar-powered homes were a rarity as recently as a decade ago. But a plethora of federal and local tax incentives along with increasing worries about climate change have made them commonplace."