Saturday, January 30, 2016

News Nuggets 1546

The Oisterwijkse forests and fens in Noord-Brabant in the Netherlands. From National Geographic.

TODAY'S BIG NUGGET: Refugee Stories in Illustrations

The Road to Germany: $2400 from Foreign Policy Magazine
"Some set out on a complicated journey to Europe with a crude graphic — a flowchart of the route from Turkey to Germany — as a guide. In its rudimentary geometry, refugees saw an impossible dream. In its illustrated stick figures, kicking their heels upon reaching the final destination, they saw themselves. They allowed an image, powerful and meditative in its simplicity, to shape their personal stories."

ELECTION TALKING POINT: What about the Size of the Army?

Lindsey Graham: Army is smallest since 1940, Navy smallest since 1915 from Politifact
"In the letter, Panetta said, "Facing such large reductions, we would have to reduce the size of the military sharply. Rough estimates suggest after 10 years of these cuts, we would have the smallest ground force since 1940, the smallest number of ships since 1915, and the smallest Air Force in its history." As far as we can tell, Panetta’s assessment is accurate. The Army already is reducing the number of soldiers to 440,000-450,000 -- down from its recent war-time high of 570,000, according to the Defense Department’s 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review. (Those reductions are the result of the ending of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, not mandated budget cuts as part of the sequestration.)  Going forward, if sequestration-style cuts go into effect for fiscal year 2016, the number of soldiers will likely have to drop to 420,000. This is the lowest number of soldiers since 1940. Before the draft went into effect later that year, there were about 264,000 troops in the Army.  Turning to the Navy, there are currently 289 deployable battle force ships. According to the quadrennial review, there will be an estimated fleet of 234 ships in Fiscal Year 2019.  That is the lowest number of ships since 1915 -- two years before the United States got involved in World War I.  That year, the Navy had 231 deployable ships. In 2016, it jumped up to 245 ships. Still, Graham was trying to make the point that the budget cuts have weakened the military to points not seen in decades. However, we learned from experts that comparing the number of troops and ships doesn’t say much about military might.  We took Graham’s claim to several experts, who told us that comparing the American military of 2014 to that of the early 20th century is irrelevant. Because of technological advances, the ships and troops of today’s military have greater capabilities than they did in the world wars. "One of the reasons for the decrease in size -- both Army and Navy -- is that we now rely far more on technology than on sheer numbers," said Roland, the military history expert from Duke. "The question is not how we compare to our Army in 1940 or our Navy in 1915, but how we compare with our potential enemies in 2014. We are head and shoulders above them.""
This is the topic of many of today's posts -- get boned up on the facts as you will hear about this all the way to November!!

Russia's Gradual Meltdown

Russians’ Anxiety Swells as Oil Prices Collapse from the New York Times
"The last time oil prices dropped so low and stayed there, in the 1980s, the Soviet Union disintegrated. Steadily rising prices since 2000 have lifted Russia out of poverty and economic chaos, buoying the prosperity of many Russians with it. ... With the federal budget approved in December based on oil at $50 a barrel, Anton Siluanov, the finance minister, announced that the country faced a budget deficit of about $40 billion, and ministries were ordered to cut spending 10 percent. Budgets were similarly guillotined last year."

On Russia's Economy, the Pessimists were Correct

Russia's Impossible Choices (George Friedman) from Real Clear World
"... the Russian economy is facing disaster. These loans are not all that expensive, and they build Russian influence. By announcing that Russia would stop offering them, the Russian government is telegraphing to its public and the world that its situation is as bad as the pessimists have said. ... the decision to cut these loans should be considered in its own right. In suspending these loans, the Russians are cutting one of their major foreign policy tools. During the halcyon days when oil prices were more than $100 a barrel, the Russians used loans to shape the behavior of foreign governments."

China: Entering the "Bust" Phase

China: It’s Worse Than You Think from Democracy Journal
"Now that China has had its private debt binge, it is entering its bust phase—and the global economy is in for a bumpy ride."

As the European Project Unravels, What Should the US Do?

Europe is in crisis. Once more, America will have to step in to save us (Natalie Nougayr├Ęde) from the Guardian [of the UK]
"From refugees to security to Brexit, Europeans cannot take care of themselves. The US has been indifferent so far but we need it at our side. ... It is obviously unrealistic to think the US is likely to repeat the kind of assistance it deployed in 1947. But the US urgently needs to seriously re-engage on European matters. Failing that, it risks seeing the European project unravel, with more disorder pouring into and across the continent and, ultimately, the loss of key allies."

Violators of Iran Sanctions: "Can we PLEASE stay in the US?"

None Of Iranians Freed In Prisoner Swap Choose To Return To Iran from Talking Points Memo
"Not one of the seven Iranians freed from U.S. custody in a prisoner swap over the weekend has chosen to return to Iran, ABC News reported Tuesday. ... none of the Iranian-Americans freed from U.S. custody after being accused or convicted of violating sanctions boarded the flight that would have returned them to Iran, according to ABC. Six of the seven men are U.S./Iran dual citizens."

America: Now a MAJOR gas exporter

America’s Looming Gas Revolution from Foreign Policy Magazine
"After years of waiting, the United States is ready to start exporting natural gas — into a very different world from what it expected."

ELECTION TALKING POINT: The size of the US Military

Pentagon Plans to Shrink Army to Pre-World War II Level from the New York Times
"The Army, which took on the brunt of the fighting and the casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq, already was scheduled to drop to 490,000 troops from a post-9/11 peak of 570,000. Under Mr. Hagel’s proposals, the Army would drop over the coming years to between 440,000 and 450,000. That would be the smallest United States Army since 1940. For years, and especially during the Cold War, the Pentagon argued that it needed a military large enough to fight two wars simultaneously — say, in Europe and Asia. In more recent budget and strategy documents, the military has been ordered to be prepared to decisively win one conflict while holding off an adversary’s aspirations in a second until sufficient forces could be mobilized and redeployed to win there. ... The cuts proposed by Mr. Hagel fit the Bipartisan Budget Act reached by Mr. Obama and Congress in December to impose a military spending cap of about $496 billion for fiscal year 2015. If steeper spending reductions kick in again in 2016 under the sequestration law, however, then even more significant cuts would be required in later years."
Good table here.

Fallows: America's political leadership "will do anything for the military except take it seriously..."

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."

ELECTION PRIMER: What the Primary Calendar Looks Like Going Forward

Why the GOP Primary Could Be Even Crazier Than You Think from Politico
"As we prepare for 19 weeks of voting, here’s an insider’s look at how major calendar moments could bring the nominating process to an end—or carry the chaos over to yet another contested round."

Surveying the GOP Rubble in the Wake of the Trumpocalypse

Trump’s GOP rivals did nothing Thursday night to block his path to the nomination (Joan Walsh) from the Nation
" A testy Rubio then attacked Cruz. “You helped design George W. Bush’s immigration policy. Now you want to Trump Trump on immigration. We’re not going to beat Hillary Clinton with someone who’s willing to say anything to win an election.” But the sad clash had left all three of them looking like they’d say anything to win an election—and showed how mainstream Trump’s immigration position is within the GOP, rhetoric aside."

Party Insiders: "It feels like the party is on the brink of breaking apart."

Portrait of a Party on the Verge of Coming Apart (Molly Ball) from the Atlantic
"... for many Republicans—the ones not living in fantasyland—the current battle for the party, between the nihilistic forces of Trump and Cruz on the one hand and the uninspiring conventional politicians on the other, feels like something deeper. It feels like a duel from which only one participant will walk away. It feels like the party is on the brink of breaking apart."

The Republican Party: Hijacked by the divisive and the dumb

On the ‘Dumbing Down’ of the GOP (Matt Lewis) from Roll Call
This is from a CONSERVATIVE pundit!!
"Somewhere between Ronald Reagan’s “A Time for Choosing” speech in support of Barry Goldwater in 1964 and the most recent government shutdown, the conservative movement became neither conservative nor a movement. Hijacked by the divisive and the dumb, it now finds itself hostage to emotions and irrational thinking. It became more personal and less principled — more flippant and less thoughtful. It became mean. It became lazy. It became its own worst enemy. Where once the movement drew strength from its desire to win the philosophical argument over its adversaries, it now wears its lost causes as badges of honor — expected, like Coriolanus, to show these battle scars as a means of vote mongering.  This is the story of how that happened..."

Gates: GOP candidates' have a grasp of national security issues that “would embarrass a middle schooler”

Robert Gates: Republicans' grasp of national security is at a child's level from the Guardian [of the UK]
"Robert Gates, a Republican stalwart and former US defence secretary who served under eight presidents, has derided the party’s election candidates for a grasp of national security issues that “would embarrass a middle schooler”. ... Former defense secretary condemns media for failing to challenge presidential candidates on promises he believes are unaffordable, illegal or unconstitutional."

Entertaining Visions on "Why Trump is a STRONG candidate"

Donald Trump’s Plan to Defeat Hillary Clinton Is Even More Delusional Than You’d Expect (Jonathan Chait) from New York Magazine
"“How Donald Trump Defeats Hillary Clinton” is the headline of a Politico story, and possibly the least convincing electability argument ever published in a mainstream publication. The author, Ben Schreckinger, cites numerous arguments for why Trump would fare better than you think. Here are the most entertaining ones: ..."

Monday, January 18, 2016

News Nuggets 1545

DAYLEE PICTURE: The Navajo Loop Trail at Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah.  From National Geographic.

TODAY'S BIG NUGGET: GOP Contenders - CLUELESS on Foreign Policy

Obama’s Republican Foreign Policy Critics Don’t Understand How the World Works (Fred Kaplan) from Slate
"But it also reflects something more dangerous about not just Trump but most of the leading GOP candidates: a view that “hitting them hard” is the only way to get people to do things, and that patient diplomacy is for suckers and weaklings."

China's Economic Meltdown

The China Bubble Pops (Robert Samuelson) from Real Clear Politics
"... China faces two problems, says Scissors, that dampen economic growth: high debts and an aging and stagnant population. The older population will shrink the size of the labor force; fewer workers will crimp the economy's output. (Between 2015 and 2040, China's working-age population 15-to-64 will fall by about 14 percent, projects the U.S. Census Bureau. That's nearly 140 million people.)  Meanwhile, debt -- for households, businesses and government -- soared by $20 trillion in the past eight years, says Scissors."

Russia’s Economy: Preparing for the Worst-Case Scenario

Medvedev: Russia’s Economy Must Prepare for Worst-Case Scenario from Voice of America
"Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said the Russian economy is looking better than one year ago but must prepare for the worst-case scenario as it continues to suffer from low oil prices and the impact of Western sanctions. ... Russia’s economy contracted 3.8 percent last year as oil, its major export, dropped in price by 70 percent to $30 a barrel. Western sanctions against Russia, because of its 2014 annexation of Crimea and continued military backing for rebels in eastern Ukraine, cut off its banks from international credit. The value of the ruble has dropped from a high of 30 to the dollar to around 75."

Russian Economic Downturn: Taking Down the Middle Class

A Dark Cloud Is Descending Over Russia's Economy (Samuel Bendett) from Real Clear World
"A number of economic bubbles, created when the economy heavily depended on oil and gas for its well-being -- such as for example, in real estate -- will burst sooner or later, leading to the collapse of the well-being of many of those who used to consider themselves the Russian middle class."

A Global Shakeup Coming from Falling Oil Prices?

The Guardian view on the geopolitics of falling oil prices from the Guardian [of the UK]
"In the geopolitics of oil production, predictions are always risky. However important it may be, the price of crude is never the single factor driving events. That a global shakeup will occur if the spectacular tumble in prices persists is, however, a fairly safe bet."

Iran and Saudi: Squaring Off Each for their own Reasons

Why Saudi Arabia and Iran May Be Seeking a New Crisis (Fred Kaplan) from Slate
"The Saudi royal family and Iranian hard-liners both could benefit from the tensions."

Obama's Historically SUBSTANTIVE Second Term

Obama's Second Term Could Be The Most Consequential In Recent Memory from the Huffington Post
"Barack Obama enters the final year of his presidency with plenty of unfinished business, from closing Guantanamo Bay to completing negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership.  But Obama has already accomplished a great deal in his second term -- more than many of his critics concede and perhaps as much as any president in modern history."

Iran's Prisoner Release Troubles the GOP's Fixed View of the World

Iran Opens for Business (Roger Cohen) from the New York Times
"Some people cannot stand good news. It troubles their fixed view of the world. These would include Senator Marco Rubio, the Republican presidential candidate, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, who were cast into a huff by the confirmed reversal of Iran’s nuclear program and its release of several Americans, including Jason Rezaian of The Washington Post. Try a smile, guys. Toughness is no more than empty aggression when it will not admit to misjudgment. Diplomacy delivers."

Obama's Under-the-Radar Domestic Policy Victories

The Nation Obama Built (Michael Gruenfield) from Politico
"A POLITICO review of Barack Obama’s domestic policy legacy—and the changes he made while nobody was paying attention. ... it’s remarkable how often Obama has gotten what he wanted, in many cases policies that Democrats (and sometimes moderate Republicans) have wanted for decades, and how often those policies have slipped under the radar."

On Gun Control: Do-nothingness as a policy and smug intransigence as a philosophy

Obsessed with Guns (Kathleen Parker) from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
"It is one thing to be in the pocket of the National Rifle Association. It is another to do nothing and then assume a superior posture of purposeful neglect, as though do-nothingness were a policy and smug intransigence a philosophy."

The Geography of Trump Support and Racism

Donald Trump’s Strongest Supporters: A Certain Kind of Democrat (Nate Cohn) from the New York Times
"... “This type of animus towards African-Americans is far more common than just about anyone would have guessed,” said Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, the economist who first used Google search data to measure racial animus ... Ultimately, his coalition may augur a bigger challenge for the Republican Party than it does for his own candidacy."
CHECK OUT the maps Cohn put together here!

A Trump Nomination and the End of the GOP

Trump’s Nomination would Rip the Heart out of the Republican Party (Michael Gerson) from the Washington Post
"Trump’s nomination would not be the temporary victory of one of the GOP’s ideological factions. It would involve the replacement of the humane ideal at the center of the party and its history. If Trump were the nominee, the GOP would cease to be. ... as a demagogue, he has followed some of America’s worst instincts wherever they have led, and fed ethnic and religious prejudice in the process. All presidential nominees, to some extent, shape their parties into their own image. Trump would deface the GOP beyond recognition."

Conservative Pundit: President Trump? Never

Why I Will Never Vote for Donald Trump (Peter Wehner) from the New York Times
"Mr. Trump’s virulent combination of ignorance, emotional instability, demagogy, solipsism and vindictiveness would do more than result in a failed presidency; it could very well lead to national catastrophe. The prospect of Donald Trump as commander in chief should send a chill down the spine of every American."

Don't like the question? Attack "political correctness"!

This is Donald Trump’s biggest fiction — and the engine of his insane rage machine (Paul Rosenberg) from Salon
"That interchange—using the charge of “political correctness” to silence any further questioning or debate, particularly in the face of specific allegations—sums up the whole GOP presidential campaign in a nutshell, although as Dana Milbank recently noted, GOP candidates have since invoked “political correctness” when speaking about (or running away from) every issue under the sun."
Why Do Republicans Dislike Jeb Bush So Much? (Jim Newell) from Slate
"He’s not just losing. He is loathed."

Limbaugh's Open Break with the GOP Establishment

Rush Limbaugh Is Cheating on Conservatism With Donald Trump (Conor Friedersdorf) from the Atlantic
"Without admitting it to himself, more fully than ever before in his long political-talk career, Limbaugh has abandoned conservatism as his lodestar. All else being equal, he still prefers the ideology. But it’s now negotiable. He’d rather have a non-conservative nominee who attacks and is loathed by the Republican  establishment than a conservative who is conciliatory and appealing to moderates."

Sunday, January 3, 2016

News Nuggets 1544

DAYLEE PICTURE: A woman in the Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi. From National Geographic. 

TODAY's BIG NUGGET: 2015: A Losing Season for ISIS?

Mapped: The Islamic State Isn’t Doing as Well as You Think from Foreign Policy Magazine
"The Islamic State began 2015 in control of vast swaths of Syria and Iraq and at one point this summer controlled three of Iraq’s biggest cities. The terrorist group ends the year in far worse shape, with a U.S.-led air campaign hammering its fighters from the skies while Iraqi soldiers, Iranian paramilitary operatives, Shiite militias, Syrian rebels, and Kurdish Peshmerga battle them on the ground.

The GOP's Muscular Mantra

The GOP Plan to Bring Back a Unipolar World from Foreign Policy Magazine
"Republicans seems to think that by banging the drum for increased defense spending, they can restore America's greatness. They're wrong. ... Policies and public expenditures in pursuit of this muscular mantra would not only fail, but would also systematically weaken U.S. leadership and influence."

The Rich and the Gov't: Keeping Their Fortunes Safe from Democracy

For the Wealthiest, a Private Tax System That Saves Them Billions from the New York Times
"With inequality at its highest levels in nearly a century and public debate rising over whether the government should respond to it through higher taxes on the wealthy, the very richest Americans have financed a sophisticated and astonishingly effective apparatus for shielding their fortunes. Some call it the “income defense industry,” consisting of a high-priced phalanx of lawyers, estate planners, lobbyists and anti-tax activists who exploit and defend a dizzying array of tax maneuvers, virtually none of them available to taxpayers of more modest means."

China: A Return to the Ranks of Weak States?

Will 2016 Bring the Collapse of China’s Economy? (Gordon Chang) from the National Interest
"The severity of China’s economic problems—and the inability to implement long-term solutions—mean almost all geopolitical assumptions about tomorrow are wrong. Virtually everyone today sees China as a major power in the future. Yet the country’s extraordinary economic difficulties will result in a collapse or a long-term decline, and either outcome suggests China will return to the ranks of weak states. As an initial matter, China’s current situation is far worse than the official National Bureau of Statistics reports."
Economic collapse?  Answer: Probably.

Russia's Year of Economic Nightmares

8 Shades of Crisis (Peter Hobson) from the Moscow Times [of Russia in English]
"The current shock engulfing Russia is even more serious, Deputy Finance Minister Maxim Oreshkin told a conference hosted by Vedomosti, a business newspaper, in December. Russia's isolation from the world economy due to sanctions imposed over Moscow's actions in Ukraine last year have worsened the impact of an oil price crash. The Moscow Times looked at eight aspects of the crisis."

Obamacare CONTINUES to work as intended

Obamacare supporters don't like talking about it — but the individual mandate is working (Sarah Kliff) from Vox
"The individual mandate is among Obamacare's most hated provisions. About two in three of Americans think the requirement to buy health insurance is a bad idea. But recent enrollment data shows that the mandate is working. The exact type of people the requirement was meant to target — young, healthy adults who might forgo coverage were it not for a government fine — signed up in record numbers this year."

Ban on Crude-Oil Exports: A deal that will speed up the shift from fossil fuels more than the global climate deal

How Big Oil and Nancy Pelosi Defeated the House Freedom Caucus (Ryan Lizza) from the New Yorker
"The most significant policy change in the legislation is an end to the forty-year ban on American crude-oil exports, which Democrats agreed to in return for an extension of solar- and wind-energy-industry tax credits. The extension of the tax credits is an enormous victory for Democrats, perhaps the most significant green-energy achievement of the Obama era. Bloomberg Business, citing one industry analyst, says, “the deal will speed up the shift from fossil fuels more than the global climate deal struck this month in Paris and more than Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan that regulates coal plants.”"

Strong Headwinds Against the GOP in 2016

Republicans come up short in search for diverse voters in 2016 election from Reuters
"The percentage of Republicans among those likely to vote in the Nov. 8, 2016, election lags Democrats by 9 percentage points, compared with a 6-point deficit in the year leading up to Obama’s 2012 victory, according to an analysis of Reuters/Ipsos polling data from 2012 and 2015. ... The numbers suggest the Republican field, led by billionaire businessman Donald Trump, faces strong headwinds against the Democrats, led by former secretary of state Hillary Clinton."

White Rage and the Death of Middle America

America’s self-destructive whites (Fareed Zakaria) from the Washington Post
"Why is Middle America killing itself? The fact itself is probably the most important social science finding in years. It is already reshaping American politics. The Post’s Jeff Guo notes that the people who make up this cohort are “largely responsible for Donald Trump’s lead in the race for the Republican nomination for president.” The key question is why, and exploring it provides answers that suggest that the rage dominating U.S. politics will only get worse."

GOP Digging a Deep Hole for Itself in the Latino Community

Trump Has Built A Wall Between The Republican Party And Latinos (David Lightman) from the National Memo
"Today, though, there’s Trump and a party that’s seen as too eager to kick immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally out of the country. “We’re digging a very, very deep hole,” said Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev."


A new Colossus of Rhodes... five times bigger than before! 500ft statue to be built at port's entrance as Greece aims to reclaim some of its former glory following financial meltdown from the Daily Mail [of the UK]
"Next statue will be five times taller than the original one which stood at 98ft.  Will be built of concrete and steel and clad in bronze-coloured solar panels.  Statue will act as lighthouse seen from 35 miles away on the Turkish coast.  Expected to generate annual income of £26 million for struggling country."


Inside the hauntingly beautiful abandoned places that are being reclaimed by nature from the Daily Mail [of the UK]
"The chilling Nara Dreamland was built in 1961 as Japan's answer to Disneyland, but now lies decaying and forgotten.  In Berlin, a hospital that was used to treat Adolf Hitler still contains items like patient chairs and equipment.  In China's Zhejiang province, time stands still in a village on Shengshan Island with tangled plants enveloping it."